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Up and down Nitties still on top in PGA

ON TOP: James Nitties shares a four-way lead entering the third round of the New Zealand PGA. Picture: Getty ImagesJAMES Nitties was left tolamentwhat could have been despitesharing a four-way lead entering the third round of the New Zealand PGA Championships at theRemuera Golf Club in Auckland.
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The Charlestown professional followed his opening round 65 with a 68 on Friday to be at 11-under alongside Josh Geary (68, 65), Scott Arnold (68, 65) and Brett Rankin (66,67).

“I shot four-under par but it felt like even par,” Nitties said. “The par fives are playing really short andthere are a few birdies out there.”

Starting on the 10thhole,Nitties made the most of the par fives to pick up shots at the 16thand 18thholes andturn in 33.He opened hisback nine with the first of four birdies, but bogeys at the 3rdand 9thproved costly.

Nitties’frustration was compounded by the superb form of playing partner Geary, whose seven-under featured six birdies in eight holes on theirfront nine.

“Playing with Josh, he had seven putts for the first nine holes so he was holing everything and not so much for anyone else,”Nitties said.

Geary could not have been happier with his short game.

“I holed three bombs from 30 odd feet and a chip in too,” he said. “It was one of those days where the hole looked as big as a bucket and they kept going in.”

Aaron Townsend is three strokes back in a tie for 10that eight under. He backed up his opening67 with a 69 on Saturday in a round that was spoiled bya double bogey at the par-four sixth.

Jake Higginbottom is in a tie for 41stat three under after shooting even par on Friday.

Callan O’Reilly (72, 70) and Leigh McKechnie (73, 69) missed the three-under cut by a stroke.Jamie Hook (73, 75) finished well back at four over.

Negative gearing hurting National Party seats more

A REPORT published by the Australian Institute (April, 2015) shows National Party seats are worse off in terms of benefits to investors from negative gearing.
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The paper focused its attention on the geographic distribution of negative gearing by federal electorates.

The analysis shows that taxable income and the proportion of people undertaking negative gearing are correlated.

As the income increases so does the number of people negative gearing.

Taxable income and net rental loss are also correlated, as income rises the amount deducted because of negative gearing also rises.

The paper demonstrated that the benefit of negative gearing was concentrated on high income earners with 50 per cent of the benefit gong to the top 20 per cent of households by income, with middle income households only receiving about 40 per cent of the benefit.

Interesting also, when they looked at the spread by political party electorates, Liberal party seats on average were likely to get the largest benefit, secondly by Labor seats, but significantly behind are National party seats.

This is not surprising when you have a closer look at the average taxable income of the electorates, the Mallee unfortunately has the lowest taxable income in the country with the average income sitting on just $25,629.

The paper also looked into those electorates that benefit the least from negative gearing and the Mallee is placed in the bottom 20 of electorates with a net rental loss for investors of $5,712.

It was also interesting to note that National Party electorates are over represented in the bottom 20 with more than 50 per cent of National Party electorates in the bottom 20.

The largest beneficiaries of negative gearing are represented by government ministers, including the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and other senior ministers.

The findings of this report therefore support my earlier letter to the editor whereby I supported the Labor announcement on savings ($32 billion) that can be made through the introduction proposed negative gearing policy, which can then be used to offset Labors funding requirements for education and hospitals.

Lydia Senior,

ALP Federal Candidate Mallee

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Chicken manure spading study delves deep to target catchment area

SEEP TRIAL: Stuart Pope’s property was involved in a chicken manure spading trial targeting seep catchment areas.
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CHICKEN manure spading on Stuart Pope’s Karoonda property targeted non-wetting sand,a catchment area for seeps,and showed positive results.

Mr Pope firstnoticed seeps developing almost a decade ago and said they haddegradedarable cropping land.

“Our main issue has been deep, non-wetting sand.We’ve done a bit of clay spreading, delving and even tried growing millet one year on the non-wetting sand and haven’t had much success with anything,” he said.

The land for the trial was spaded with different rates of chicken manure and the subsequent barley yield, quality and germination exceeded expectations.

Trials consultant Chris McDonough said there was sparse germinationand roots struggled to establishdeep into the control areas.

“The control areas were reaping1-1.5 tonnes ahectare last year. Where we spaded withoutchicken manure was 2-2.5t/ha. Where we spaded with 5-6t/ha of chicken manure it went up to 3-3.5 t/ha. It was quite remarkable,” Mr McDonough said.

“Mallee sands are oftencompacted between 20 centimetresand 40cm so roots can’t break through them.We’re breaking that compaction and because chicken manure is very high in nitrogen, phosphorous, sulfur and trace elements you’re mixing nutritious organic matterthrough the top 40cm, and that ischanging the fertility of the soil.”

Mr McDonough said the moisture-holding capacity was much better in the spaded chicken manure soil than the control area, which means the sand is less likely to contribute to seep recharge.

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Formula one testing: Sebastian Vettel on pace, Mercedes shows first chink

Sebastian Vettel speaks to the media in Barcelona. Photo: Andrew TateDaniel Ricciardo revs up for Australian Grand PrixRicciardo assesses his car and fitnessF1 testing: Ferrari unveils halo
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Barcelona: For the first time in two weeks of Formula One testing at Circuit de Catalyuna the all-conquering Mercedes team had a reliability problem, but Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel​ is not getting too excited about the last-day hiccup for his main opponents.

Vettel was one of the last drivers to leave the testing track on Friday, managing 142 laps and the fastest time of the day of one minute 22.852 seconds. But the four-time world champion said the gearbox failure that titleholder Lewis Hamilton suffered on track did not indicate a major problem for Mercedes.

“No I think there is potentially 1 million reasons why you could have a problem with the transmission these days, from software failure to major hardware issues,” Vettel said.

“I’m not sure they will publish what exactly it was and given the laps that they have done so far in those two weeks I think in terms of reliability they look very strong.”

Hamilton’s car ultimately had to be retrieved on the back of a truck. He ran 69 laps. The other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg was on track without incident for 67 laps in the afternoon session.

Vettel was pleased with his Ferrari’s performance in testing and said he was now keen to take the battle to Melbourne.

“We have had no major issues with the car we were able to do quite a lot of laps and going through our program well, so, yeah, I think it was a good test,” he said. “It has to be seen, but I think the first impression was good and everything that we built after that felt very positive so overall I’m happy with the feeling in the car … we are very happy with the step we made.”

At Red Bull, Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo​ ran for 123 laps, with a best time of 1.24.427, giving his car some wheel spin in the pit lane as he went out for one last testing lap. He said he was now looking forward to the season-opening Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Andrew Tate travelled to Barcelona courtesy of the AGPC

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‘Three decades in combat’

CHANGE NEEDED: Gary Chandler says there needs to be more support services for former and current police officers. HE WAS “in a combat zone for 32 years”, butafter more than 18 months on unexplained sick leave Gary Chandler received just one call from the welfare department.
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The former Creswick police officer attended up to 40 fatalities during his time as a police officer inCreswick. He suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.He worked shifts by himself. One of his worst nights stands out clearly –at 5pm he was called to a suicide, at midnight he was called to another suicide. He knew both the teenagers well.

“The coroner said that was the first time in 30 years he’d heard of one person having to deal with two suicides,” Mr Chandler said.

When he returned to the empty police station, two teens were sitting on the step. They asked him if he was OK, and made him a cup of coffee.Mr Chandler has welcomed a call from the member for Western Victoria Jeff Bourman to the Minister for Veterans John Eren to extend military assistance to help police and emergency service workers experiencing PTSD.

“I call them my midnight visitors,” Mr Chandler said of the visions of people from fatal accidents that haunt his dreams.

“I would wakeup in the night screaming.”

At his worst Mr Chandler couldn’t attend an event without being near the door.He can’t remember how he got onto it, but Mr Chandler enrolled in a course for returned military personnel that had been modified for and extended to police.

Gary Chandler

“It explains to you why you feel the way you do …I found it quite good,” Mr Chandler said.“It enabled me to be able to cope.”

Mr Chandler said counsellors helped him cope with his “midnight visitors”.

“They said ‘did you handle it the right way? Did you help these people?’, I said yes.They said ‘they are not coming back to haunt you, they are coming back to thank you’.“I still have my my midnight visitors. But I no longer wake up screaming.”

Mr Chandler said the military was miles ahead of emergency services organisations when it came to understanding how to treat PTSD. He is hopeful a new investigation into PTSD among members will lead to changes in the force.

A spokesman for the Minister of Veterans said past and present emergency service workers have access to range of services to help them cope withthe impact of attending confronting events.

“The Andrews Labor Government knows these roles can be really difficult, so we’re committed to giving the hard-working people that do them the support they need,” the spokesman said.

A review of mental health support services within Victoria Police is underway.

The Courier

UN eyes on Bendigo

CASE STUDY: The immediate past and current regional EAROPH presidents Kerry McGovern and Jane Stanley tour Bendigo. Picture: DARREN HOWEBendigo will be used as a case study on how to build a regional economy at a United Nations conference in South America later this year.
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This came after a regional think tank toured the city this week to see how it was employingsustainable urban planning,City of Greater Bendigo strategy managerTrevor Budge said.

“They had the opportunity to meet anywhere in Australia,”MrBudge said.

“They deliberately choseBendigo and central Victoria because they heard about the great things that are happeninghere in terms of economic development, urban design and how arts and culture arerejuvenating the city,”

More than 30 members of theAustralianChapter of the Eastern Regional Organisation for Planning and Human Settlements (EAROPH) – a think tankwhich encourages excellence in planning and development –visited the Ulumbarra Theatre,theBendigo Art Gallery and new housing developments on Friday.

The case studies from Bendigo will inform the United Nation’s Habitat III Conference to be heldin Ecuador in October. The conference is held every 20 years and offers a unique opportunity todiscuss the challenge of how cities, towns and villages are planned and managed.

Afterwards theyheld a forum on housing and the role of local government and urban design, CBDregeneration and the role of arts and culture in Bendigo’s economic development,EAROPH presidentJane Stanley said.

“We’re interested in what is involved in building a regional economy that’s not connected to a big city metropolis,” Ms Stanely said.

“We’re going to look at Harcourt and Casltemaine and Bendigo as the three levels of hierachy and we’ll be looking at what the strengths of each economy are and how they can work together to build a regional economy.”

EAROPH will issue a report on howthe threecommunities can work together for mutualbenefit in coming weeks.They will then take their findings to theUN’s Habitat III Conference to be heldin Ecuador in October.

The global planning conference is held every 20 years.

TheBendigo Advertiser

Prime Minister Najib Razak stands defiant in Malaysia’s ‘Game of Thrones’

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad joined with political foes to issue a declaration signed by 58 public figures urging Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign over corruption allegations. Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad outlines the case against Prime Minister Najib Razak.
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Malaysians urged to ‘rise up’ against PMThe mystery of the $1.4 billion

Bangkok: Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak has defiantly lashed out at political enemies who have come together to call for a national movement to remove him from office.

In a dramatic escalation of tensions in his Muslim-majority nation, Mr Najib said 58 signatories to a declaration pledging to plot his ouster, including veteran former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, “have demonstrated the depth of their political opportunism and desperation.”

“There is an existing mechanism to change the prime minister. It’s called a general election,” he said.

“And it is the only mechanism that is lawful, democratic and fulfils the people’s will.”

Politicians from Mr Najib’s long-ruling party were among the group that came together in an unprecedented show of solidarity across Malaysia’s political divide, the latest development in a political tumult that even Mr Najib’s own brother has described as Malaysia’s ‘Game of Thrones’.

“We call upon all Malaysians, irrespective of race, political affiliation, creed or parties, young and old, to join us in saving Malaysian from the government of Najib Razak,” the group said in a statement read by Dr Mahathir.

Members of the new alliance also demanded the remove of people close to Mr Najib who they said had covered up for the prime minister in a corruption scandal that has dogged him for months.

They also demanded the repeal of laws that violate fundamental rights and the restoration of institutions they said had been undermined.

Mr Najib’s immediate response to the declaration that was signed by anti-corruption activists and members of civil society groups, as well as politicians, made clear he has no intention of buckling to the pressure.

The 62-year-old British-educated son of a former prime minister has for months resisted growing calls to resign over allegations linked to the debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and deposits of hundreds of millions of dollars in his personal bank accounts.

Mr Najib last year replaced the former attorney-general who had been investigating him, installing a loyalist who ordered the country’s anti-corruption agency to shut down its investigations into the allegations.

Mr Najib has also cracked down on critics and media outlets, prompting a rare, stern rebuke from the United States, a close ally.

And powerful division chiefs in the ruling United Malays National Organisation, who have for years benefited from an entrenched system of money politics and party largesse, have refused to move against the prime minister, who denies any wrongdoing.

Earlier jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim declared his backing for the Dr Mahathir-led movement, putting aside Malaysia’s longest-running and most bitter political rivalry.

Mr Anwar said in a statement from his cell that Mr Najib has “wreaked havoc” in the country with “the most severe scandal” in Malaysia’s history.

In 1998 while he was prime minister, Dr Mahathir turned viciously against Mr Anwar, forcing him from the post of deputy prime minister.

“We must together chart a new way forward to save our beloved nation,” said Mr Anwar, who is suffering serious health problems.

An alliance between Dr Mahathir, who remains an influential figure in the ranks of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) although his authority has waned over years, and Mr Anwar, was unthinkable before the scandal engulfed Mr Najib.

Mr Anwar’s opposition group won the popular vote at bitterly contested elections in 2013 but a pro-rural gerrymander saved Mr Najib’s party from defeat.

Ninety-year-old Dr Mahathir quit the UMNO on February 29, saying he could no longer support a group seen as supporting corruption under Mr Najib’s leadership.

Mr Najib has refused to clarify how almost $1 billion came to be deposited into his personal bank accounts in 2013 or to explain what happened to the millions that remain unaccounted for.

He has urged the country to unite and move forward after his government said the money was a legal donation from Saudi Arabia.

But the Wall Street Journal has reported the money flowed through a series of international transactions from the 1MDB state fund, which Mr Najib set up in 2009 and oversees through an advisory board.

The newspaper has also claimed that more than $1.4 billion was sent into Mr Najib’s accounts since 2011 – millions more than previously identified.

Mr Najib’s government denied the report, accusing the newspaper of becoming “a willing vehicle for certain political actors who are seeking to damage the Prime Minister and Malaysia for personal gain”.

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Tony Abbott was warned about rumours of an affair with Peta Credlin, claims book

Former prime minister Tony Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Tony Abbott consults Peta Credlin in Parliament. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Former prime minister Tony Abbott winks as he departs Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

No happy ending as avenging Abbott unleashesShirtfronted: Part One “Problems”Shirtfronted: Part Two “Peta”Shirtfronted: Part Three “Joe”Shirtfronted: Part Four “Security”Shirtfronted: Part Five “Malcolm”

Tony Abbott was warned that the perception that he was having an affair with his chief of staff Peta Credlin was destroying his prime ministership, a new book claims.

Political commentator Niki Savva has detailed the revelation in her forthcoming book The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government.

Separate details of the book’s contents published by the veteran commentator Laurie Oakes detail how Ms Credlin fed the then prime minister food from her fork at an Italian restaurant in Melbourne.

She then rested her head on his shoulder and complained of being tired.

It was this sort of behaviour that sparked endless gossip in Canberra about the dynamic of the prime minister’s dependence on his staffer.

In extracts published in The Australian on Saturday, Savva writes that one of Mr Abbott’s most loyal lieutenants, conservative New South Wales Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, sounded the warning the night before the first attempt to oust Mr Abbott as leader in February 2015.

The senator tackled head-on one of the most circulated rumours in Canberra during the years Mr Abbott, his chief of staff and her husband Brian Loughnane, the federal director of the Liberal Party, dominated the organisation.

“Politics is about perceptions,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells is quoted as telling Mr Abbott.

“Rightly or wrongly, the perception is that you are sleeping with your chief of staff. That’s the perception, and you need to deal with it.

“I am here because I care about you, and I care about your family, and I feel I need to tell you the truth, the brutal truth. This is what your colleagues really think.”

Mr Abbott denied the rumours and refused to sack Ms Credlin – a hugely divisive figure within the government because of her micro-managing and domineering style.

In the past, Mr Abbott accused his colleagues of being sexist and claimed they would not criticise his chief of staff if her name was “Peter” and not “Peta”.

This is the same defence Ms Credlin has mounted since the collapse of the Abbott prime ministership.

Since their fall from government, Mr Abbott has asked Mr Turnbull to appoint Ms Credlin Sex Discrimination Commissioner and to make Mr Loughnane Australia’s Ambassador to the Vatican – both requests the new Prime Minister has declined.

Senator Fierravantti-Wells is reported to have delivered the same blunt criticism to Ms Credlin, who paid her a visit two-days later.

This is when she made her prophecy, first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald’s political editor Peter Hartcher, that: “One day Tony will be sitting on a park bench in Manly feeding the pigeons and he will blame you.”

Ms Savva was one of Ms Credlin’s fiercest critics during Mr Abbott’s prime ministership. This led to Ms Credlin, backed by Mr Abbott, demanding the editor of The Australian, Chris Mitchell, sack her.

Mr Abbott denied demanding Ms Savva’s head, but Mr Mitchell stands by his interpretation of the conversation according to Hartcher’s five-part series Shirtfronted: The Story of the Abbott Government.

Ms Savva’s extracts also contain details of what prominent Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce told Mr Abbott a month before the September coup.

Senator Joyce – now National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister – reportedly told Mr Abbott he would face a leadership challenge around the time of the Canning by-election.

It’s also reported that current Immigration Minister Peter Dutton urged Mr Abbott to replace then-Treasurer Joe Hockey with Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Abbott did not heed their advice and was replaced with Malcolm Turnbull on September 15 – the Monday before the Canning poll.

He promised that there would be “no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping,” but has since criticised the new Prime Minister over national security and economic policies.

A separate News Corp report quotes Mr Abbott as pledging to continue defending his “legacy” but that any concerns he holds about the Turnbull government will be overridden by the prospect of a Bill Shorten-led Labor government.

Fairfax Media has asked Ms Credlin and Mr Abbott for comment.

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Australian Grand Prix 2016: Daniel Ricciardo revs up to go racing in Melbourne

“I feel ready to go racing” Photo: Mark Thompson Ricciardo is feeling confident ahead of the Australian Grand Prix. Photo: David Ramos
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Sebastian Vettel on paceRicciardo assesses his car and fitnessF1 testing: Ferrari unveils halo

After two weeks of testing in Spain, Daniel Ricciardo believes he’s in a better position than last year to push for a good result at the Australian Grand Prix – and the wheel spin he dropped in the pit lane on his last lap suggests he’s still having fun.

“Yeah, excited, I’m glad there’s no more testing, ready to go,” he said immediately after getting out of the car at Circuit de CataIyuna. “I feel ready to go racing.”

Ricciardo’s Red Bull ran sixth in Melbourne last year after enduring a testing session dogged by equipment failure. But this year he had mostly trouble free race simulations, ending Friday’s session with 123 laps and solid mid-field times.

“(It’s) pretty good. I’m glad the next time we are in the car is race time,” he said. “I think out of three out of my four days we got over 100 laps done so a lot better than the last couple of years.

The Australian said the Renault engine –  which is  branded Tag Hauer on the Red Bull – seemed to have more power than last year’s troublesome power unit.

“We’ve made some improvements, there’s definitely more to come, but so far it is in the right direction,” Ricciardo said. “I think it is a positive start to the year, so yeah, as I said we are in a lot better position than we were the last two seasons.”

I think if we were to race tomorrow, then that’s probably where we stand for now … from that I mean I think Mercedes and Ferrari are quicker than us basically on pure pace right now. I think it’s evident, but it’s expected as well.  If tomorrow we race in Monaco maybe we would have … an outside chance of a podium, but if we were to race here right now tomorrow then yeah we would need a little luck.”

Ricciardo said he’d ticked all the boxes for testing with regards to the car. Personally he said he wanted to check on one one thing: “Make sure I’m still fast”.

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Tinder trap robber Jack Croucher jailed for six years

Tinder trap: Madelyn Capewell. Photo: Simone De PeakA former bikie associate who set a Tinder trap and lured a victim expecting sex to an empty car park so he could be robbed has also been convicted of firing a shotgun at a witness during a bungled ATM theft.
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Jack Anthony Croucher, 21, of Bonnells Bay, appeared in Newcastle District Court on Friday to be sentenced for armed robbery in relation to the Tinder set-up in July, 2014, and for two offences stemming from an attempted early morning ATM theft at the Cooranbong Newsagency five months earlier.

He was sentenced to a maximum six years in jail with a three year non-parole period.

Court documents state Croucher was on a good behaviour bond when he and four other associates of the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang discussed stealing the ATM on February 7, 2014.

CCTV footage from two cameras at the newsagency shows Croucher reversing a four-wheel-drive up to the ATM about 4.15am.

Four men jump out of the car and start feeding a tow-strap out of the boot. But before they can fix it to the machine, the store’s owner returns in his car.

The men jump back into the car, but as Croucher is driving out of the car park he stops and points a shotgun through the passenger side window at the victim.

The passenger in the front seat of Croucher’s car had to lean forward to avoid being shot, court documents state. The victim ducked down behind the dash as Croucher fired a blast from the shotgun at his car, spraying pellets and shrapnel that hit the front and side of the vehicle.

Croucher then drove away. The victim was not injured.

Croucher wasn’t arrested until July 30, 2014, after police linked him to a robbery in the car park of Morisset Pool a few days earlier.

Court documents state that in the early hours of July 26, a 34-year-old man used the popular dating application Tinder to “match” with a woman named “Brittany” who claimed to be 20-years-old.

The two began chatting and by about 9.30am were getting into the heavy details. Court documents state that “Brittany” asked the man, “you wanna f – – – me”, followed by “it’s gunna cost ya”.

They agree on a time and location and negotiate a price.

The only problem was “Brittany” was actually Croucher, who had used photos of his girlfriend Madelyn Capewell on the profile. When the victim showed up to the meeting spot he spoke briefly with Capewell before Croucher jumped from a car with a 50 centimetre metal pole and accused him of “trying to pick up my girlfriend”.

The victim handed over his cash, phone and alcohol but refused to give up his credit card, prompting Croucher to smash the windscreen of his car. Capewell was given a suspended jail term for her role in the robbery.

Newcastle Herald

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Former TAFE manager Ronald Cordoba corruptly obtained $1.7 million: ICAC

A former TAFE manager could face criminal charges after the corruption watchdog found he engaged in  “serious corrupt conduct” by procuring more than $1.7 million from his employer for his own business.
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Ronald Cordoba was acting manager of information and communications technology services at the TAFE NSW South Western Sydney Institute.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption heard allegations he improperly raised purchase orders and authorised payments for his company, ITD Systems Pty Ltd, in 2014.

In a report released on Friday, ICAC found Mr Cordoba funnelled more than $1.7 million to his business, deliberately concealing his ownership of it and using a fake name and title while communicating with TAFE SWSi.

Mr Cordoba also engaged in serious corrupt conduct when he used his position to secure $55,000 from a contractor to TAFE SWSi, ICAC found.

It recommended the matter be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration of criminal charges, including fraud and making false statements to an ICAC officer.

Mr Cordoba had held various positions with TAFE SWSi from 2002. He was suspended on full pay in August 2014 and resigned a month later from the institute, which has more than 72,000 students.

In a statement, TAFE SWSi – which had notified ICAC of the suspected fraud – said it had already implemented improvements to its systems and processes to reduce the risk of a similar occurrence.

“While TAFE SWSi recognises that its systems and processes were not perfect, we believe the fraud was detected because of the professionalism and diligence of our staff, despite the complicated and extreme actions taken by Mr Cordoba,” the statement said.

TAFE SWSi is also seeking further legal advice and “taking all necessary steps to recover all funds obtained fraudulently by Mr Cordoba”, it said.

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‘Una Bomba’ Francesca Chaouqui points finger at Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell makes a statement on Thursday following a meeting with survivors of sex abuse. Cardinal George Pell’s handwritten statement. Photo: Nick Miller
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Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to reporters as he leaves the Quirinale hotel after meeting with survivors of sex abuse.

Francesca Chaouqui also called “Lady Vatican” at home in Rome on Tuesday. Photo: Marco Di Lauro

Public relations expert and former member of the special commission on economic reforms of the Vatican Francesca Chaouqui arrives at the “Vatileaks 2.0” trial session at the Vatican on December 7, 2015. Photo: Theresa Ambrose

Chaouqui is shown in her Facebook profile photo; Lucio Balda is shown in a YouTube video. Photo: Facebook, YouTube.

Cardinal George Pell giving evidence this week: “this was the real Pell being slowly revealed”.

Vatican critic has harsh words for PellResigning would be admission of guilt: Pell

“Did you meet with the Pope today? What did the Pope say?” asked a TV journalist, as Cardinal George Pell brushed past him with a little wave to the cameras, stepping into Rome’s Hotel Quirinale.

“I’ve got the full backing of the Pope,” Pell replied.

It was an odd reply: not quite an answer to the question posed. Of all the things the Pope may have said about an inquiry into historical abuse by Catholic priests in Australia, or the finances of the Vatican, this comment came first to the cardinal’s mind.

It spoke volumes.

And it was the first sign that on this, the second of four gruelling night-owl sessions of examination over video by Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Pell would be playing some bad defence.

This was the night of his soon-notorious comment about paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, “it’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me … I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated” – a statement he desperately tried to row back later in the week, arguing he was confused about the context and misspoke.

This was the night he claimed no recollection of a meeting in which a paedophilic priest’s reassignment was discussed, “except to the effect that paedophilia was never mentioned”, a remarkable feat of memory.

This was the night he tried to excuse why a priest might not go beyond his job description to ensure the safety of children from abusers: “because [when] something is wrong, you can’t wave a magic wand and correct the situation easily”.

He even quibbled when asked “are you suggesting that a priest, who has knowledge of an abuse of a child but has no responsibility under canon law, is entitled … to do nothing?”

“Well … ,” began the cardinal.

Following Pell’s at times excruciating testimony, along with millions of other Catholics, was a young woman in Rome, Francesca Chaouqui.

Chaouqui, a controversial Vatican insider, had worked closely with Pell on reforming the Vatican’s opaque finances and she was appalled at what she was now seeing.

The only time the cardinal seemed comfortable was when the counsel assisting the commissioner was drawn into a philosophical discussion on the nature of group responsibility.

His prickly, hair-splitting, eyes-front demeanour relaxed, and there was a hint of the younger George Pell – an ambitious, whip-smart, academically minded and athletically talented Ballarat priest being groomed for the highest levels of Catholic power – while around him, to his claimed complete incomprehension, young boys were being groomed for abuse by a succession of evil clerics.

It was all just a “disastrous coincidence” there were so many abusers about at the time, he told the commission. No one informed him of the extent of the problems or he would have done something. When he was told of abuse, he passed the information straight to his superiors and accepted their ruling (even if it was to not do very much).

Pell, 74, learns from his mistakes. As archbishop of Melbourne, he instituted a program to help victims of abuse (though the commission last year said it had systemic problems, including discouraging victims from contacting police).

This week he also sought to redress the balance. On Thursday, with the commission hearings done, he met all the survivors of abuse who had come from Ballarat to face him at the hearing, and spent an hour in an emotional meeting with them, listening to their stories, empathising with their pain, and pledging his support to a planned centre for helping abuse survivors and preventing suicide.

In scenes remarkable in Rome, where cardinals – especially one as senior as Pell – are treated with reverence, after the meeting he stepped onto the pavement into a media pack and read a statement scrawled on hotel notepaper and written on terms requested by the survivors.

It was not quite Pope Francis-level humility, but in the eyes of the survivors, it was a start.

The commission moves on, back to Australia. Pell will be mentioned in its conclusions, and judging by the occasionally incredulous questions from the commissioner and his assisting counsel, he may be given a rough ride.

But he is safe.

Pell is, according to an unofficial but widely accepted measure agreed by the “Vaticanisti” media, the third-most powerful man in one of the world’s most powerful organisations.

He is the man who was in 2014 entrusted by Pope Francis with the hardest job in the Vatican: as prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, he must clean the Augean Stables of two millennia of graft, slush funds, crimes petty and not-so-petty, mismanagement, economic illiteracy and just plain shoddy accounting.

This is a tough job, and technically a demotion from Archbishop of Sydney. But Pell has been chasing a job in Rome for years, some claim.

“He has obtained the much-desired Vatican passport,” Francesca Chaouqui says. “No one can touch him now. The cardinal is serene; Australia is far away.”

Chaouqui is not just any Vatican commentator. She is the “Una Bomba” the “sex bomb who embarrassed the Vatican”, to quote the more lurid labels in the Italian press.

She is the communications consultant who was brought onto Pope Francis’ hand-picked reform commission, COSEA, in 2013, figuring out how the Vatican could join the 21st century in accountability, finances and structure.

And now she faces prison, charged in a three-judge Vatican court on allegations of leaking COSEA documents to the media.

Chaouqui, 34, is writing a book on her time at the Vatican, and her Milan-based agent Vicki Satlow has asked her not to do media while she shops it around.

But Chaouqui said she couldn’t keep quiet when she saw Pell on the commission video feed. It made her furious. Reforming the Vatican was her life’s work, she says. She may go to prison over it – and she fears that Pell is not the man for the job.

Chaouqui is not the “sex bomb” PR type that the papers would have you believe. She lives in a working-families suburb in southern Rome, in an apartment with inspirational quotes written on the walls.

Her husband works in IT, and they are expecting a son in late June. She first met the cardinal when she started her work at COSEA. He was taking a keen interest.

One of the goals of COSEA was to design a new organisation for the Vatican economy – their eventual recommendation was to create the Secretariat of the Economy.

Pell was one of eight cardinals in a group created by Francis in April 2013 to reform the Curia and break its over-centralisation in Rome.

Chaouqui says – in broken English, helped by a translator – Pell was “like an ‘ombre’, a shadow in the commission”.

She claims Pell was trying to influence commission secretary Monsignor Lucio Balda – now a co-accused with Chaouqui in the Vatileaks 2.0 trial – and worked to “create a relationship” with other influential people in COSEA.

In December 2013, barely five months after COSEA had been created, “Cardinal Pell was talking with Monsignor Balda and saying we have to [work] very, very fast to organise the Secretariat for the Economy”.

Chaouqui saw him as an ally, working – like them – for reform. By February the next year, their recommendations had been finalised and were out of their hands. “We had to do everything very, very fast … just six months for the study it’s not a long time for the work that we had to do.”

It was only later that Chaouqui wondered, “Why the rush?” And she wondered why Pell had been pushing so hard.

“The focus is, I am thinking, [for him] to come very fast [from] Australia,” she says. “[Pell] would call Balda three times a day, he was in such a hurry that that was not normal. The focus of the commission [COSEA]: it’s not a studied thing but it is to create this organ and [bring] Cardinal Pell here.”

She is not the only person to claim that Pell had been diligently working to secure a Vatican post.

According to Merchants in the Temple, a book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi – one of Chaouqui’s co-accused in the Vatileaks 2.0 trial – Pell had “arrived quietly in the Holy See in the [northern] spring of 2013 with the intention of playing an important role on Francis’ team”.

“He guessed correctly the new climate that the Pope wanted to bring into the Curia and he wanted to play a central role in the project of restructuring the Vatican.

“Pell’s detractors claimed that the cardinal had a single objective in those weeks: to obtain for himself a post in the Apostolic Palace and leave Sydney behind, thereby fleeing the aggressive investigation being conducted by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.”

Chaouqui says she cannot know the cardinal’s motive for seeking a permanent job at the Vatican.

But she is writing a book about one night, in February 2014, when, she says, Pell convened a meeting at Domus Australia, the Sydney Diocese centre of power in Rome, and Pell’s home away from home.

There, Chaouqui claims, Pell led Dr Joseph Zahra, president of COSEA, Balda and his aide, Nicola Maio, in creating the document that Pell then took to the Pope as the blueprint for the Secretariat of the Economy.

She claims that, essentially, they wrote the Pope’s Apostolic letter Dispensator et Prudens.

Extraordinarily, this took place without the involvement or knowledge of the Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, theoretically the Pope’s No. 2.

“I compare it to a coup d’etat what happened that night,” Chaouqui says.

“Cardinal Pell forced the creation of the Secretariat for the Economy.”

This chimes with an anecdote from Nuzzi’s book. At the secret meeting with cardinals where the Pope announced the creation of the secretariat, to the surprise of Parolin, at one point Pell was called on to explain how it worked. One cardinal joked: “Of course … Pell knows everything.”

Everyone in the meeting laughed.

Fairfax Media put a series of questions regarding Chaouqui and Nuzzi’s claims to Pell’s representatives on Thursday.

His spokesperson said “the cardinal’s strong record of tackling incompetence, corruption and cover-up in church life in Australia is precisely the reason he was asked to come to Rome to implement the Holy Father’s reforms”.

Others who have written on the topic picked the cardinal as the obvious choice to lead the economic secretariat, given his history on pushing for reform, and his independent status as a Vatican outsider.

In June 2014 Chaouqui was still a believer – telling the Boston Globe she “supports completely” Pell.

But then began Vatileaks 2.0 – in early 2015, journalists got hold of Pell’s expense claims: half a million euros before the secretariat was even established, details such as a €4600 kitchen unit, Pell’s business-class flights and expensive vestments.

Two books came out, with further embarrassing confidential details of the Vatican finances – clearly sourced from COSEA’s investigations.

Chaouqui denies being the source of the leak – and names who she thinks is responsible. But she says the details on Pell’s office, along with her reflections of the way the secretariat was created, soured her on Pell as the standard-bearer for reform in the Vatican.

And then – prompted by rumours and briefings spread by the cardinal’s political enemies – the Vatican started to become aware of the cardinal’s role, and the allegations he would face, in Australia’s royal commission.

“It’s horrible to see the cardinal that is the head of economic reform to talk about the paedophilia,” says Chaouqui, who followed the commission hearings intently. “For me it’s very incredible … the same person that represents reform is the same person that seeks to defend [himself] from accusations of having covered up a paedophile.”

She says the cardinal is losing the authority required to achieve reform. “I feared for the reform, I feared that with this situation Pell would no longer have the strength or authority to manage a new structure like the Secretariat for the Economy,” she says.

Chaouqui wonders if her son will be born while, or shortly before she is jailed over the exposure of “truths” in the Vatican. She says the mentality of cover-ups and silence that she saw in the evidence to the commission is the same as she is being put through.

“It’s crazy. I am being prosecuted as a traitor because I had the courage to denounce what is rotten in the Vatican, while Pell is safe and sound protected by its walls.”

Chaouqui says she once told Pope Francis that when one of the people that works in the economic affairs side of the Vatican chooses to reach out and touch a refugee, or someone suffering in a poor country, victims of war or abuse or oppression, someone in true need of compassion and care, only then “we win”.

“If it’s not possible we don’t win. This is the reform for me. The reform is the people, it’s not the money.

“I think the challenge is to reform the people, not the church.”

When, on Thursday, Pell chose to meet the victims of abuse, to reach out and hear their stories: above all the budgets and audits he has imposed on the church, that may have been his greatest act of reform.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Best tours around the world: The 25 next great journeys

Masuleh Vilage, Gilan, Iran. Photo: Istock Puglia. Photo: Andrea Zanchi
Nanjing Night Net

The sand dunes of Rub al Khali in Oman. Photo: iStock

Discovery is what travel is all about. And nothing sparks like a new journey. Along with some places that have just opened to travellers – Iran, the Balkans, the “Stans” – there are new ways of experiencing some old favourites, crafted by imaginative operators.

Cuba on a Harley-Davidson qualifies,  or a cycling trip through Corsica or the Kimberley coastline aboard a French-accented luxury cruise ship.

Some of these new journeys involve difficult trips for hard core adventurers, but yesterday’s wild frontiers – the Shan Hills of Burma, the lemur forests of Madagascar, the Silk Road through Uzbekistan – are fast becoming well trodden paths. Here are few suggestions to set you dreaming and planning. ICONIC KIMBERLEYAustralia

WHAT French cruise line Ponant plans to begin operating cruises along the Kimberley coastline in 2017. Four 10-night voyages are scheduled between July and September 2017, sailing between Darwin and Broome. This will be the first vessel of this size and calibre to make regular cruises along this sinewy, sensational coastline since the much-loved Orion left Australia’s waters several years ago.

There’s a lot to like about Ponant’s Italian-built expedition-style vessels, from the handsome cabins to the multiple lounge areas, the three bars, the expansive deck areas, the choice of buffet or a la carte restaurants and 24-hour room service menu.

The on-board naturalists are fantastic, with several Australians in the mix, and the 14 Zodiacs put passenger disembarking into express mode.

The maximum passenger load is around 250. The Ponant ships are also the world’s youngest cruise fleet, they’re some of the prettiest ships afloat and finally – raise glasses please – there’s an open bar. Cheers!

MAKE IT HAPPEN July – September 2017, from $9700. See en.ponant南京夜网  

The Kimberley coastline. Photo: Ponant/Mick FoggBELMOND GRAND HIBERNIANIreland

WHAT In August, Ireland becomes the latest member of the luxury train league when the Belmond Grand Hibernian starts its run through the sceptred glories of the Emerald Isle with a choice of two, four or six-day itineraries.

The six-day Grand Tour of Ireland tacks on a jaunt into Northern Ireland to take in Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway, but those in search of shamrocks and blarney should be happy enough with the four-day Legends and Loughs trip, a circuit from Dublin to Cork then up the west coast to Galway and Westport and back to Dublin, with luxury trimmings all the way.

The Hibernian accommodates just 40 guests in twin and double cabins, all with en suites. The decor throughout is throttled-back neo-Edwardian in a country-comfort taupe and cream, a far cry from the belle epoque extravagance that has been the hallmark of Belmond, whose standard bearer is the Venice-Simplon Orient Express.

MAKE IT HAPPEN From August 2016, from $5025. See railbookers南京夜网419论坛.

Belmond Grand Hibernian BORDERS RAILWAYScotland

WHAT Reopened after 50 years, the Borders Railway runs from Edinburgh to Tweedbank. It’s less than 50 kilometres, but glorious scenery, history and sheer delight punch the journey into heavyweight league.

The journey takes just under an hour and, since it’s a commuter line, trains travel the line frequently. For the traveller, it works best as a hop-on, hop-off service, and there are some fascinating stops along the way.

Get off at Eskbank Station and catch a cab to Rosslyn Chapel, which played a starring role in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. From Galashiels there’s the pretty hamlet of St Boswells, and Jedburgh, site of Mary, Queen of Scots’ house. Alight at Tweedbank and it’s just a short hop to Mellerstain, a superb Georgian mansion and possibly the only remaining complete building designed by Robert Adam.

From Tweedbank station, you can walk to Abbotsford House, the castellated home of Sir Walter Scott. The Border Rail also offers easy access to more than 2000 kilometres of hiking trails, with the long-distance Southern Upland Way as one of the stars.

Another gem is the Borders Abbeys Way, a 100-kilometre trail running through woodland beside the salmon-leaping Tweed, with crumbling abbeys alongside.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Daily service, from $30 return. See 梧桐夜网bordersrailway.co.uk. THE MEKONGFrom Laos to China

WHAT Pandaw is one Myanmar riverboat company that thinks outside the square and it’s just announced a ripper journey for 2016, along the Mekong from Laos and up into the underbelly of China. The vessel is the 10-berth Laos Pandaw, the latest addition to the fleet.

From Vientiane, the Laos Pandaw will travel north along the Mekong up into Jinghong in southern Yunnan Province, a 14-day journey.

A better bet would be the 10-day trip starting from Luang Prabang. Along the way there are a few time-warped curiosities, such as the journey by car along the Old Mandalay Road in Kengtung State to the former colonial hill station of Loi Mwe, a visit to Aka hilltribe villages at Muang Long, the Menglun Botanical Garden and Mangfeilong Monastery in Yunnan before the vessel docks at Jinghong. The reverse journey is another option.

MAKE IT HAPPEN From February to April, later dates to be announced.  From $9665 (14 days Vientiane to Yunnan Province). See 梧桐夜网pandaw南京夜网/laos-china.

Laos Mekong cruise with Pandaw VALLEY OF THE ASSASSINSIran

WHAT Most Iranian itineraries have a sameness to them, but this is an eye opener, through an Iran that delivers one punchy revelation after another.

After a couple of days in Tehran, the group travels north into the Alborz Mountains, along the Caspian Sea. This is a majestic and staunchly traditional quarter of Iran, punctuated by mountain villages of pastoralists who have driven their flocks of sheep and goats up into the cloud-hung summer pastures of the Talesh Highlands since the ink was still wet on the Book of Job, and who rigorously maintain the tradition of hospitality to strangers.

Highlights include the Lambesar and Alamut “assassins” castles, the huddled and highly photogenic mountain village of Masuleh, the town of Meshkinshahr, one of the most ancient cities in Iran from the Safavid period, and the city of Tabriz​.

There’s hiking, too, up to five hours a day, and camping a couple of nights, with Shahsavan nomads along the Azerbaijan border. The group trip in September is also available on other dates as a private trip.

MAKE IT HAPPEN September 15-28, and independent itineraries; $5764. See 梧桐夜网crooked-compass南京夜网.

Tehran skyline in front of snow covered Alborz Mountains, Iran. Photo: iStockNORTH COAST 500Scotland

WHAT Rugged and romantic in equal parts, this newly minted route is a natural for any list of the world’s greatest drives.

Travelling in a loop from Inverness Castle, the North Coast 500 girdles the top third of Scotland, preferring the minor roads that snake along the coast.

The concept of a “500-miler” here defies belief, yet Scotland’s sea and ice-sculpted coastline is the answer. The route weaves out and around the long fingers that reach into the sea and thus becomes a looping, swooping 830-kilometre adventure.

It’s a less-visited Scotland. The route is designed to spread some love to the wallflower in the Scottish dance hall, and there’s every reason to take a twirl.

It’s heart-stoppingly beautiful, lavishly endowed with castles, sea stacks, sea-fretted beaches, lochs and Pictish trails, through a landscape that might have sprung from the pen of J. R. R. Tolkien.

MAKE IT HAPPEN See 梧桐夜网northcoast500南京夜网.

Along the North Coast 500 the Grey Cairns of Camster. Photo: iStockCUBA MOTORCYCLE TOURCuba

WHAT A trip to Cuba is not quite the dinner party conversation-stopper it once was.

Cuba with your hands on the bars of a Harley-Davidson, an 800cc BMW or a Suzuki VStrom is another kettle of fish.

This 13-day tour travels the length of Cuba, from Havana to Guantanamo, at the eastern end of the island and close to the infamous US-operated detention camp.

Tobacco plantations, the mausoleum of Che Guevara in Santa Clara, the Bay of Pigs museum, beaches and the World Heritage city of Trinidad feature on the itinerary. Count on four to six hours in the saddle a day, the occasional Cuba Libre cocktail, a touch of Hemingway and probably a few late-night salsa sessions.

Extreme Bike Tours specialises in tours in the Indian subcontinent, including a rugged and spectacular two-wheeled crossing of the Himalayas, and operating in remote locations makes it well equipped to handle whatever challenges Cuba throws its way.

MAKE IT HAPPEN March 6-18, 2016, later dates to be announced; $9133. See 梧桐夜网extremebiketours南京夜网.

Cuba motorcycle tour Photo: SuppliedVATICAN BY TRAINItaly

WHAT Opened in September, this railway line connects the Vatican in Rome with Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer palace. The price is a mini-marvel, and the round-trip train ticket includes access to the Vatican museums, the Sistine chapel, the Vatican gardens and the botanical and architectural wonders of Castel Gandolfo.

Better still, train travellers get to jump the queue at the Sistine chapel with an audio tour, followed by a stroll around the formal gardens.

The train, which operates only on Saturdays, departs Vatican City’s white marble railway station at 11am, crosses the Tiber River and chugs into the Alban Hills to Albano Laziale, the station for Castel Gandolfo, 30 kilometres south of the capital.

The train ticket includes a toy train tour of the Pontifical villas and their gardens, which feature a theatre built for the Emperor Domitian in the first century AD. Just after 5pm, the train leaves for the one-hour journey back to Vatican City.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Saturdays only, $60. See 梧桐夜网biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets

Vatican, Rome. GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVALMongolia

WHAT Among the Kazakh people of the western Mongolian province of Bayan-Olgii in the mountainous Altai region, ancestral ways linger.

Some people still live in pie-shaped gers, herding sheep and goats and hunting rabbits, foxes and even wolves, with golden eagles, from horseback.

Every year, the most accomplished falconers come together on the outskirts of Olgii, the regional capital, to show off their skills.

Pack your best camera – the hawk eyes and fur-trimmed costumes of these hard men of the mountains mark them as a special breed, even in a land that specialises in the extraordinary. In 2017, luxury tour specialist Abercrombie & Kent will lead a group to the festival as part of a wider exploration of Mongolia.

As well as a private session with a falconer, highlights of the journey include nights camped out in gers, hiking in the foothills of the Altai Mountains, rides across the desert aboard a Bactrian camel and Kazakh cultural performances.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Late September 2017. See 梧桐夜网abercrombiekent南京夜网419论坛.

Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia. Photo: Getty ImagesHEART OF PERSIAIran

WHAT Iran is one Middle-Eastern country that combines fascination with safety and sanity for the culturally minded traveller, and this 14-day journey aboard the ultra-luxury Golden Eagle train plumbs the wonders of ancient Persia and modern Iran.

From Tehran, the train travels clockwise to take in Isfahan, Yazd, Persepolis and Kashan as well as the holy city of Mashad in the far east and Kerman, both rare on Iranian itineraries.

Decked out like a Faberge egg, the Golden Eagle is Russia’s contribution to the luxury train league. This is the only fully en-suited train travelling through Russia and Central Asia, with proper beds, service befitting a posh hotel and caviar all the way.

Hotel facilities in most of Iran are some way short of five star. For any traveller looking to experience the wonders in stately style, the Golden Eagle is a promising alternative.

MAKE IT HAPPEN November 24, from $23,000. See 梧桐夜网goldeneagleluxurytrains南京夜网.

Isfahan, Iran Photo: iStockTRAILS TO FREEDOMItaly

WHAT In September 1943, four young Australian soldiers broke out of a prison camp north of Turin and walked across the Italian Alps, crossing five mountain passes and skirting the second-highest peak in the alps before reaching Switzerland and freedom.

The paths they took dated from medieval times, later rechristened by partisans as the “sentieri della liberta”, the trails to freedom.

Once a year, starting from August 2015, Simon Tancred, of Hidden Italy walking tours, leads a maximum of 12 keen and fit walkers to follow in their footsteps.

From Biella in Italy’s Piedmont region, the nine-day walk traverses some of the most spectacular scenery in the European Alps, along trails used by pilgrims, traders, herdsmen and hunters, with accommodation in medieval monasteries and mountain huts, as well as small hotels.

Expect simple but robust food, the slow food movement takes its stem cells from Piedmont. The walk is graded “5”, which signifies a tough trek, but far easier than those four diggers had it.

MAKE IT HAPPEN August 22, 2017, $3200. See 梧桐夜网hiddenitaly南京夜网419论坛.

Piedmont, Italy EXPEDITION – SVANETI Georgia

WHAT Even by the lofty standards of isolation and ruggedness that apply in the Republic of Georgia, Svaneti is a world best left to its own devices.

At the top left-hand corner of this pocket-sized country, shielded from Russia by the towering peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, Svaneti is the wild child in the Georgian family.

They call this the land of 1000 towers and the stone fingers of fortified turrets spike the landscape, one for every 15 inhabitants. It feels like an invading army has just marched though wielding swords and mayhem, but in this case the invading army is nature, wild and wilful, bringing avalanches and wrenching the mountains apart with torturing force.

Majestic and sown with drama, Svaneti feels like a place that humans were never meant to live. It is also unbelievably lovely when spring, coming late to these high valleys, sets white cherry blossoms exploding across the hills and turns fields into yellow planes of buttercups.

Intrepid Travel has recently unveiled a 10-day trip from Tbilisi into this remote region, with a hike from the mountain fastness of Ushguli, said to be the highest inhabited town in Europe, along a lovely stream to the Shkhara Glacier as a highlight.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Several departures, in July, August, from $1695. See 梧桐夜网intrepidtravel南京夜网.

Ushguli Caucasus Mountains, Georgia PUGLIA – A SPECIAL WALKING & CULTURAL TOURItaly

WHAT For lovers of Italy in search of something different, Puglia is the go-to place. Even more so the sub region of Salento, the heel of the Italian boot, home to some of Italy’s loveliest towns and villages, a dazzling coastline amply furnished with beaches and an architectural treasury that dates back to Greek days.

As well as rustic villages, you’ve got easy access to Lecce with its extravagant collection of baroque churches that wins it the title “Florence of the south”.

To the north is Alberobello, famous for its conical trulli houses, and the glistening white towns of the Valle d’Itria.

World Expeditions has an 11-day guided walk that dallies through some of the villages and landscapes of this lovely corner of Italy. Leading the tour is Athena McAlpine, widow of the late Lord Alistair McAlpine and a passionate and authoritative voice on this corner of Italy that she now calls home.

Better still, four nights are spent at the wondrous Convento di Santa Maria Costantinopoli, the former ruined seaside monastery that the McAlpines lovingly restored.

MAKE IT HAPPEN September 19, $6290. See 梧桐夜网worldexpeditions南京夜网.


WHAT Across India’s north-western Kumaon region, the ridge lines rise and fall, increasing in size and vigour until they crest at the shining, snow-plated giants along the border with Tibet.

Against a backdrop of terraced hillsides, grunting oxen heave wooden ploughs and women with gold jewellery in their noses thresh rice in the mud-floored courtyards of their houses. Rooftops are splashed with splotches of drying chillis. Foreigners are a source of wide-eyed wonder to the village children.

In these hills, Shakti Himalaya has crafted the Kumaon Village Walk, a guided five-day stroll that winds between villages, through fields and forests of rhododendrons, oaks and deodars.

Shakti has been operating this walk for several years but recently the village houses that hikers use for overnight stays have been refreshed, redecorated and, in some cases, rebuilt. Houses have proper beds and plumbing, while preserving the simple charm bestowed by stone and hand-hewn timber.

It’s a journey filled with human warmth as well as spectacle, culminating in a final, panting climb to watch the rising sun paint the spike of India’s tallest peak, Nanda Devi, 7817 metres of ice and rock, cresting in the heavens.

MAKE IT HAPPEN October 1 –  April 20, $3630. See shaktihimalaya南京夜网

Shakti Kumaon Village Walk, India Photo: ShaktiWHISPERS THROUGH THE EMPTY QUARTEROman

WHAT Oman is one of the few Gulf states that has not lost touch with its roots. This is a wild province of the imagination, a place of date palm oases and desert castles hoisted on craggy outcrops, the home of frankincense and myrrh and souks where men with silver daggers in their waistbands haggle over goats.

Eco-awareness rates high. Oman’s conservation-minded Sultan Qaboos Bin Said has established sanctuaries for the Arabian oryx, tahr and leopard.

In the south are beaches where turtles wade ashore to lay their eggs, now rigidly protected. From Muscat, Oman’s capital, this new 10-day four-wheel drive trip heads into the lost-in-time landscape of the Hajar Mountains, through fortified villages, lush palmeries, through Jebel Shams, the “Grand Canyon of Oman”, before heading into the towering dunescape of the Wahiba Sands and finally back to the coast at Salalah.

MAKE IT HAPPEN October 10, private departures on request, $6930. See 梧桐夜网crooked-compass南京夜网.

The sand dunes of Rub al Khali in Oman. Photo: iStockCLASSIC COLS OF CORSICAItaly

WHAT For keen cyclists, the island of Corsica is about as sweet as life in the saddle gets and this new tour from UK cycling specialist Marmot Tours is an absolute honey.

From the entry point at Ajaccio, on the island’s west coast, the route loops around to include all the landscapes that the island has to offer, taking in time-warped villages, Roman ruins, an ambrosial coastline, the starkly beautiful Desert des Agriates and narrow, cliff-hugging roads – and mountains.

Every day there’s a choice of a “challenge” route, which piles an extra helping of distance and ascents onto the less rigorous “classic” route. Even so, the classic routes are no pushover at around 120 kilometres per day, with more than 1000 metres of climbing but, according to Marmot, any fit, regular cyclist with no mountain-climbing experience can do it. Maximum group size is 20 and there are two sag wagons if your legs have had enough.

MAKE IT HAPPEN May, September, $2280. See 梧桐夜网marmot-tours.co.uk.

Corsica Photo: ShutterstockTAJIKISTAN DISCOVERY

WHAT New to the Intrepid Travel portfolio in 2015, Tajikistan and neighbouring Kyrgyzstan are not for everyone. But if you prefer your travels served wild, your scenery raw and majestic and spiced with unpredictability, these jigsaw-piece countries between Uzbekistan, China and Afghanistan could be just the place.

Most of the population lives in river valleys that gutter the high peaks of the Pamir-Alay Mountains, the geography in this region and one of the world’s least visited mountain ranges.

From Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, this 13-day trip heads south, joining the Pamir Highway at Osh to cross the border into Tajikistan on a spectacular journey that rises to 4655 metres to cross Ak-Baital Pass as it traces one of the Silk Road’s many strands.

There are some long days of driving in this itinerary, along tortuous roads, but the mountain scenery makes it worthwhile and there’s a peek across the border into Afghanistan.

MAKE IT HAPPEN May and September, from $3665. See 梧桐夜网intrepidtravel南京夜网. PADDLING RAJA AMPATIndonesia

WHAT An archipelago of 2500 islands and reefs strewn off West Papua Province, the islands that make up Indonesia’s Raja Ampat have blown all previous counts of marine life out of the water.

Lavishly greened, the toothy limestone islands of Raja Ampat – “the four kings” – erupt from the sea, covered with thick rainforest and garnished with orchids. Where the islands meet the water they are ringed by the waves, which leaves the smaller islands looking like green muffins.

For diving and snorkelling, these islands are in a class all by themselves, and a new trip from Southern Sea Ventures brings them within reach of sea-kayakers.

The trip comes in two versions. The soft option is a 10-day live-aboard on a traditional Indonesian schooner with modestly luxurious cabins and lounges; the other is an 11-day camping and homestay trip.

The vessel carries tanks and gear for scuba diving, and the diving is off-the-wall superb. All trips are full for 2016 but round up a group of like-minded friends and Southern Sea Ventures can tailor a private trip.

MAKE IT HAPPEN October-November, from $6450 for the live-aboard trip, 2017. See 梧桐夜网southernseaventures南京夜网  .

Limestone islets and tropical lagoon in the Raja Ampat islands, West Papua. Photo: iStockEXPEDITION – KOSOVO, ALBANIA & MACEDONIA

WHAT This is Europe’s final frontier, at least one of the trio – Albania – kept under wraps by the acute paranoia of the Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha. Intrepid Travel began operating this 15-day circuit in the summer of 2015 and still rates it an “expedition”, which hints at the unpredictable nature of the journey. From Tirana, the Albanian capital, the tour skips north to Shkoder close to the border with Montenegro before heading inland to Kosovo and south through Macedonia.

In these rolling Balkan uplands is a peasant landscape of scalped mountains, lakes and expanses of grassland where shepherds stand guard over their flocks. This is one of the frontiers where Islam and Christianity rub shoulders, and Byzantine churches and minarets punctuate the skyline.

The people of these three countries are a wonderful asset for the tourism cause, both friendly and flattered that foreigners find something in their countries worth seeing.

MAKE IT HAPPEN June-September, from $2595. See 梧桐夜网intrepidtravel南京夜网.

Valbona Valley, Albania JAPAN WINTER DISCOVERY

WHAT Japan in winter draws thousands of Australian skiers and boarders but Insider Journeys has just come up with a cracking winter tour that capitalises on the chilly charms of Honshu and Hokkaido without a ski pole in your hands.

Beginning with a few days in Tokyo, the 14-day tour stitches together an onsen, a hot spring resort, in the Japan Alps, a hike to visit the Japanese macaques, the highly photogenic “snow monkeys”, bathing in a hot spring at Yudanaka, temples and an icebreaker cruise among the creaking ice floes of the Okhotsk Sea.

In a variation on this tour at a slightly higher price, another tour in late January visits the Snow Festival in Sapporo, when the city’s streets are taken over by a blinding array of architectural fantasies made from snow and ice, creating a never-never world that gets even better at night.

MAKE IT HAPPEN January 15, February 12, 2017, from $9900. See 梧桐夜网insiderjourneys南京夜网419论坛.​

Japanese snow monkeys Photo: iStockReviving the classics

GOLDEN EAGLE LUXURY TRAINS The golden age of rail travel is recreated with these sumptuous railway carriages, which marry the style of a classier era with the food and comforts of our own. There’s an imaginative choice of routes – from Moscow to Vladivostok, across Mongolia and China, through the Balkans and threading the Silk Road. See 梧桐夜网goldeneagleluxurytrains南京夜网  .

Golden Eagle

IN SHACKLETON’S FOOTSTEPS From Ushuaia in southern Argentina, Aurora Expeditions’ late summer voyage retraces the voyage of this heroic polar explorer through the shifting ice pack and tubular bergs of the Weddell Sea, where his ship was crushed, then to Elephant Island and finally South Georgia, from where rescue was effected.See 梧桐夜网auroraexpeditions南京夜网419论坛  .

LEWIS AND CLARK The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06 opened the dark curtain that had shrouded the American West, marking a turning point in the history of the United States. Stephen Ambrose’s historical tour takes small groups in their intrepid footsteps on a 12-day tour, with camping and canoeing to add the essential note of realism. See 梧桐夜网stephenambrosetours南京夜网.

THE BURMA ROAD Hacked from the monsoonal rainforest of northern Burma during the 1930s, the Burma Road became an important supply route for the Allied forces in the war effort against Japan. Spice Trails has a 13-day cycle tour from Baoshan in China’s southern Yunnan all the way to Mandalay. This fantastic journey takes cyclists through some of the least visited parts of Myanmar, home to many of the country’s ethnic minorities. See 梧桐夜网spiceroads南京夜网/tours/north_burma.

THE FLYING SCOTSMAN The world’s most famous steam locomotive is back on track. After a multimillion-dollar refurbishment, this handsome green engine has been restored to its former glory and will be hauling passenger carriages on special tours across the UK. See 梧桐夜网flyingscotsman.org.uk.

Bar car on the Golden Eagle train. Right at home: Five up-and-coming Australian adventures

THREE CAPES WALK Destined to become a classic, this walk begins with a boat ride to Denman’s Cove, followed by a four-day, 46-kilometre cliff-hugging walk along the Tasman Peninsula. Numbers are restricted and overnight accommodation is in bunk rooms at architecturally crafted huts. See 梧桐夜网threecapestrack南京夜网419论坛.

View to Tasman Island from the Blade, along the Three Capes Track. Photo: Andrew Bain

GREAT SOUTHERN RAIL Great Southern Rail has recently brought a touch of Louis Vuitton-style luxury to The Ghan and Indian Pacific trains with a Platinum Club carriage, featuring a daytime lounge/bar, and an evening banquet setting suitable for captain’s dinners or larger groups. Platinum Service also includes transfers, larger cabins and in-cabin breakfasts. See greatsouthernrail南京夜网419论坛.

MACQUARIE ISLAND Quite a few of those images of elephant seals, albatross and massed ranks of Adelie and royal penguins used to sell Antarctic trips were shot on Macquarie Island. Australia’s own sub-Antarctic World Heritage island, this is mother nature with her hair down and the way to see it is on one of Ponant’s expedition cruises. See 梧桐夜网en.ponant南京夜网.

LARAPINTA CAMPS Running west from Alice Springs, the Larapinta Trail follows the backbone of the West MacDonnell Ranges through some of the most dramatic landscapes of central Australia. World Expeditions has recently extended its Larapinta Camps so that walkers spend every night in permanent camps with hot showers, comfy lounges and a heated dining shelter, where trail guides put on chef’s hats and dish out a feast. See 梧桐夜网worldexpeditions南京夜网/au.

DARLING RIVER RUN Cutting a slash across western New South Wales, the Darling River Road follows the course of the Darling from Bourke to Wentworth — a journey rich with memories of the time when the paddle steamers opened up the heart of NSW. Although the intervening years have cushioned some of the hardships, the journey along the Darling is still potent with a sense of adventure. See 梧桐夜网visitnsw南京夜网.

Macquarie Island Photo: Ponant/Mick Fogg

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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