Monthly Archives: December 2018

Monday, January 12

Neighbours is returning for its 30th anniversary season.FREE TO AIR
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Show of the Week: Neighbours (series return), Monday-Friday, Eleven, 6.30pm

In March Neighbours will celebrate 30 years on our television screens, and even that foundation anniversary brings with it the kind of feelgood soap opera plotting the show has long favoured: the program was launched on Channel Seven but was cancelled after a single season in 1985, only to be picked up by Channel Ten at the beginning of 1986 and become an improbable and oversized success  at home and abroad.The show may have cooled off over the last decade, being shifted to Ten’s digital channel Eleven and sadly no longer launching pop music careers, but the week surrounding Wednesday,  March 18 should prove a bonanza of cameos and unlikely reappearances.

The likes of Delta Goodrem (Nina Tucker), Paul Keane (Des Clarke) and Stephanie McIntosh (Sky Mangel) are reportedly confirmed, with will-she-or-won’t-she chatter to undoubtedly build about whether Kylie Minogue will don mechanic’s overalls and return as Charlene Robinson.

It will be interesting to see how such a dedicated and lucrative burst of nostalgia ties in with the current Neighbours, because the show that has returned this year has toughened up its storylines. Any show beginning its 30th year will have different eras, and right now the events surrounding the residents of Ramsey Street in the fictional Melbourne suburb of Erinsborough are comparatively serious, even if they play out in familiar ways.

Traditionally, Neighbours has been the laidback alternative to the improbable – and sometimes deranged – tactics of its soap-opera rival, Channel Seven’s Home and Away, but there’s a distinct lack of family cheer at the moment. One strand has newcomer Erin (Adrienne Pickering) trying to kick a drug addiction and regain custody of her child; you can tell Erin has issues because she’s quite possibly the first character in the history of Neighbours to deliberately have dirty (non-blonde) hair.

Elsewhere the show’s “villain”, Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis), is back to being a villain, having commissioned a bashing that has police investigating and bribe money being handed out. “Make the problem go away,” the mayor of Erinsborough is told by his lawyer, but the real problem soon becomes that Paul’s nephew, Daniel (Tim Phillipps), has finally twigged to Paul’s mildly despicable true nature.Last year’s tornado has blown away some preconceived notions as well as a few trees, but Neighbours still reverts to familiarity. Erinsborough Hospital is vast when shown in an establishing shot, but no matter what, Dr Karl (Alan Fletcher) still treats every character, while there’s a romantic triangle unfolding between a buff boy and two hotbots that is so familiar Pythagoras could solve it.

Neighbours at this point is an institution, albeit a sweetly loopy one, and anniversaries or not it will roll through another year.Craig Mathieson

The Miracle Hunter, ABC2, 8.30pm

Simon Farnaby (whom fans of TheMighty Boosh  will recognise as hammy thespian Hamilton Cork), sets out on a global quest to find explanations for the superhuman powers possessed by travelling showpeople and YouTube sensations. On the first leg of the journey, he meets magnetic people. The first  is a nine-year-old rural Croatian boy, Ivan, who attaches spoons and weights to his  trunk. Farnaby isn’t convinced, but is too considerate of the young lad and his impoverished family to go about shattering their good fortune.  In Belgrade, Farnaby meets ‘‘human electricity conductor’’ Biba Struja, whose death-defying feats have a vaguely plausible explanation, in the way of a rare skin condition.

The closest Farnaby comes to testing the superhuman myth is watching ademonstration by Biba’s scientistfriend. After witnessing psychokinesis practitioner Ivan Roca wow a room of people  with his apparent ability to make them tilt backwards with an invisible string, Farnaby decides it wouldn’t be  nice to burst a belief bubble that brings such joy. So far, his quest seems more of a freak-show documentary than a serious attempt to find logical explanations.

Derren Brown: Infamous, SBS Two, 9pm

British illusionist Derren Brown works a clever schtick as a sceptic, busting trade secrets and insisting his abilities are available to us all. Aconsummate showman, he performs a series of impressive tricks that include ‘‘operating’’ ona young man with his fists. Thedisclaimer denies the use ofaudience plants, but how else  can such wizardry be explained?

Uncle, SBS One, 9.30pm

For a bonghead devoid of responsibility and prone to inappropriate behaviour, Andy (Nick Helm,  of Big Babies) is strangely likeable. In this first episode of  the BBC Three comedy, he is wrenched from the sofa by aplea from his sister to babysit hisnephew, Errol (Elliot Speller-Gillott), for an afternoon. A series of unfortunate events leads Andy and his young charge to a gay strip club, where the transvestite father of Andy’s girlfriend threatens an unpleasant form of grievous bodily harm.  Andy may be  a despicable character without the slightest of good intentions,  but his acerbic honesty delivers wonderfully wrong laughs and a hint   of something of substance beneath his extravagant facial hair.

Bridget McManus

MOVIES

Lucky You (2007), Romance Movies (pay TV), 6.20pm

Made as the era of underground professional gamblers gave way to televised poker tournaments, Curtis Hanson’s Lucky You explores the unpredictable milieu of the Las Vegas gaming culture, where professionals such as Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) are so enamoured of the wager they can’t refuse a bet – at one stage a desperate Huck accepts a $10,000 bet that he can’t run five miles and shoot a round of golf in 78 strokes in less than three hours. But the dictates of budget and demographics mean  Lucky You can never be about this netherworld.

Instead it focuses on Huck’s two key relationships: one new and promising, with a singer named Billie (Drew Barrymore), the other long-standing and troubled, with his father L.V. (Robert Duvall). Billie is naive and bubbly, although it’s never entirely clear why Huck values her, be it for salvation or support. You don’t believe  she could keep Huck from a game for more than a minute.

Edge of Darkness (2010), Seven, 9.30pm

It is not impossible to take a miniseries and remake it as a movie of equal worth – the various editions of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy are proof of that – but there needs to a durable framework. For Edge of Darkness, the American remake of the remarkable 1985 mini-series, the underpinning appeared to be nothing more than revenge: a man loses his daughter, so he pursues those responsible in an attempt to make them pay. It’s a primal, but perfunctory, approach and it can’t have been easy for director Martin Campbell, who handled both versions 25 years apart, when the comparison revealed the pallid failings of his truncated successor. Mel Gibson, looking worn by the years, is Boston police detective Tom Craven, whose daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is barely home before radiation sickness and then an assailant’s shotgun blast end her life. The plot becomes indecipherable, the violence excessive and repetitive. Thankfully a Fox News reporter is on hand to reveal the conspiracy.Craig Mathieson

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RSL Clubs could be the next victim of Sydney property boom

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media
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Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

The RSL Club used to be part of the social fabric, a place to go for a special occasion or a cheap meal when mum or dad couldn’t be bothered cooking or for a few quick drinks after work.

Many are now fighting for their financial futures due to a combination of falling patronage, outdated facilities, demographic changes and competition from modern alternative entertainment options.

But where many see an outdated and tired business model and board members heavy with age property developers see large, well-located freehold sites, ideal for residential redevelopment.

Take the current saga surrounding South Hurstville RSL and Hurstville RSL.

South Hurstville RSL is a financially strong club with an upward trajectory.

Hurstville RSL on the other hand been in the red for the past few years, with growing losses, declining revenues and dwindling net assets.

As a result, both have voted in favour of an amalgamation . However those decisions are being challenged by a group called “The Friends of Hurstville”, who prefer a plan for a mixed use redevelopment being put forward by property developer Will McDonald of Skye Pacific Properties Pty Ltd.

Mr McDonald  leads a consortium that includes Parkview Constructions and Dickson Rothschild Architects.

The chairman of the pro-development Friends of Hurstville group, Ed Mason, said a meeting held at Hursville RSL on August 10 (to vote on the decision to amalgamate) was a “farce” and that some members of Chinese background were unhappy.

When asked specifically about the vote, Mr Mason couldn’t confirm any actual numbers as he is not a member of Hurstville RSL. He was issued a membership card when he applied but said he then had his application refused at the board level.

Mr Mason did confirm there were about 120 people, all of which he said wanted to vote at the meeting, at a lunch meeting of the Friends of Hurstville group which was paid for by the property group led by Mr McDonald.

Hurstville RSL general manager Rod Bell, and the CEO of South Hurstville RSL, Simon Mikkelsen, refute Mr Mason’s and Mr McDonald’s claims and say that all votes have been conducted correctly and have been validated by a separate NSW Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) investigation.

“Everything has been done by the book to allow both clubs’ members’ wishes to proceed,” Mr Mikkelsen said.

Mr Bell said Hurstville RSL has looked over and rejected a number of property development proposals submitted for their site because the board considered they did not have the members’ best interests at heart and risked rendering the RSL insolvent.

“Our only and best chance of surviving as a community club is by joining with South Hurstville RSL,” Mr Bell said. “Club members should realise that if the developer gets control of this club it will be closed for up to two years and may never reopen.”

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority has adjourned their decision on the amalgamation to assess the claims made by the warring factions. Mr Bell feels this gives the development proposal an unfair advantage.

“We now need the Minister Troy Grant to instruct ILGA to support the wishes of both clubs’ real members and not a bunch that are more than happy to see another RSL disappear in this Anzac centenary year,” he said.

The ILGA said it deferred its decision on December 17 “so it could receive further detailed submissions about claims it received questioning whether the correct steps had been followed in the merger process”.

A final decision is expected by March.

Two highly publicised  property development deals where financially stricken clubs have been “rescued”  by property developers are the proposed Balmain / Rozelle Village development deal and the Souths on Chalmers development deal.

Souths on Chalmers was put into administration and then closed, with significant debts, and Balmain Leagues have borrowed millions for lead time costs (to continue operating at a temporary venue) and still have no formal resolution.

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Cycling New Zealand’s Great Taste Trail

Horsing around: Happy horse poo for sale at the side of the road en route to Motueka. Photo: Rob McFarland Horsing around: Happy horse poo for sale at the side of the road en route to Motueka. Photo: Rob McFarland
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Horsing around: Happy horse poo for sale at the side of the road en route to Motueka. Photo: Rob McFarland

Horsing around: Happy horse poo for sale at the side of the road en route to Motueka. Photo: Rob McFarland

“That’s not a hill, it’s a wrinkle,” says John with trademark understatement as we survey the ominous incline ahead. The rest of the group have sensibly chosen to remain in the van and start today’s ride at the summit. I, fuelled by male bravado and three Weet-Bix, have decided to keep him company, blissfully unaware that next month he heads to France to cycle 2000 kilometres of the Tour de France route.

I quickly realise trying to keep up is futile so instead relax and enjoy the view. We’re cycling along a quiet country back road, through the sort of idyllic rural scene that dominates much of New Zealand’s South Island. Rolling pastures dotted with sheep, weather-beaten wooden sheds with rusted iron roofs and an impressive backdrop of undulating hills in shifting shades of green.

We collect the rest of the group and continue on tranquil country lanes to the village of Wakefield, where Evan has laid out an extravagant morning tea of fruit, shortbread, tea and plunger coffee. We all tuck in heartily even though it’s less than two hours since we ate breakfast and there’s still lunch at a winery, afternoon tea and a hearty dinner to come. I suppose there’s not much point in cycling the Great Taste Trail if you’re not going to taste.

New Zealand’s cycle network has grown rapidly over the last few years, fuelled by government investment and the success of the original cycling prodigy, the Otago Central Rail Trail. There are now 23 routes that are classified as Great Rides, predominantly off-road trails that showcase the best of the country’s landscape, environment, culture and heritage. The Great Taste Trail is one of the most recent, a 175-kilometre loop around the top of the South Island that passes through Nelson.

The route focuses on the abundance of fresh produce and wineries in the region so unless you have monk-like restraint you’ll be consuming more calories than you expend.

Our five-day trip started in Christchurch where we were kitted out at PureTrail’s depot with comfortable 27-speed hybrid bikes, helmets, panniers and sexy fluorescent high-vis vests. This departure is slightly unusual because there are only four of us, compared to the normal 10-14 guests, and we have two guides rather than one (Evan is in training).

Bikes safely loaded on the trailer, we leave Christchurch, heading north and then west over the scenic Lewis Pass to Saint Arnaud, an alpine village on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. After a spot of sightseeing and a gentle 16-kilometre orientation ride, it’s back to the more pressing issue of eating. Clinker Cafe may not sound like the most salubrious of dining spots but the braised pork belly in apple cider I have for dinner is not only excellent, it’s enormous. “Heartland portions,” explains John.

Fast forward a day and our convoy of four leaves Wakefield full of coffee and shortbread and heads towards lunch. It’s easy, delightful riding – a mixture of roadside paths, quiet back roads and gravel tracks that meander past vineyards and skirt orchards bursting with apples, berries and kiwifruit. On one section we cycle along a riverbank through fragrant bursts of fennel and flickering clouds of butterflies.

Lunch is at Waimea Estates, a family-run winery where our not-very-hard-work is rewarded with generous bowls of plump, creamy, Chardonnay-steamed green lipped mussels in a sun-drenched courtyard overlooking the vines.

We’re only eight kilometres from Nelson so this afternoon’s ride is a gentle 30-minute cruise along a dedicated bike path next to the Waimea Estuary. We arrive at our accommodation, the charming mews-style Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco at 1:30pm, leaving us plenty of time to explore.

In an effort to work up an appetite for what I know will be another heartland-sized dinner, I eschew Nelson’s museums and boutiques in favour of a walk along the Maitai River to the Botanical Reserve. After a mildly strenuous climb up Botanical Hill, I arrive at what is allegedly the geographic centre of New Zealand. I later discover that several places claim this accolade but either way the 360-degree views over the harbour and the rolling hills of the surrounding national parks are sensational. And I’m pretty sure I’ve burned off a mussel.

That evening we reconvene in the garden of the pub opposite our hotel and over a sunset glass of sav blanc our merry band of six gets to know each other. Husband and wife Gerry and Penny live in Newcastle and are cycling converts after doing the Otago Central Rail Trail with PureTrails last year. Margaret is from the Gold Coast and is clearly a PureTrails fan given this is her sixth trip with them. Guides John and Evan are both diehard, shorts-in-any-weather Cantabrians and expert exponents of the region’s trademark dry sarcasm. The South Island is the “mainland” and John confesses he’ll “barrack for anyone over Auckland”.

We retire inside for dinner where I feast on a tender Angus steak washed down with a glass of Roaring Meg pinot noir. Given PureTrails also covers the cost of a dessert, it seems rude not to sample the lemon cheesecake with cream and lemon sherbet. In the distance I hear my cycling shorts crying in protest.

While superlative food and wine are the trip’s main attraction, the scenery comes a close second. The next day we cycle back along the estuary, passing through a protected wetland before crossing onto Rabbit Island for morning tea by a deserted white sand beach. A winding pine tree-lined track leads us to a tiny cove where a ferry takes us and our bikes across an inlet to the buzzy township of Mapua for lunch.

Subsequent days deliver similarly beguiling landscapes – an early morning cycle along the Motueka River, the sun filtering through the haze of a freshly limed field; vast fields of hops, their carefully trained branches resembling dancers around a maypole; orchards full of berries swathed in dew-soaked nets.

We spend two nights at the comfortable Equestrian Lodge Motel in Motueka, cycling in the mornings and sightseeing in the afternoons. Excursions include a scenic cruise from Kaiteriteri that skirts the bays and furrows of the Abel Tasman National Park and a visit to the Riwaka Resurgence, a sacred Maori site where the Riwaka River emerges from a network of caves underneath Takaka Hill.

On our final day we head back inland to complete the loop. The trail here is still being completed so John and Evan improvise with a 13-kilometre ride along a quiet valley flanked by fields of curious cows. It’s knuckle-numbingly cold when we start at 8:30am and a brisk headwind (or a “gentle cooling breeze” according to John) drags tears from our eyes. After 40 minutes we’re all happy to jump back in the van and begin the long trek back to Christchurch.

The cycling portion of the trip may be over but the tasting part isn’t. Our last lunch is a fitting finale, a lazy feast of tapas-style shared plates washed down with crisp glasses of riesling at Forrest Estate Wines’ stylish cellar door in Marlborough.

FIVE MORE GREAT NZ RIDES

OTAGO CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL

The original “Great Ride”, this 150-kilometre route through Central Otago follows a disused railway line. The perfect introduction to a multi-day cycling trip.

TE ARA AHI

Starting at Rotorua, this 66-kilometre trail passes through a thermal wonderland of steaming vents, bubbling mud pools and spectacular geysers. Expect rare flora and fauna and a rich vein of Maori folklore.

QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK

This 70-kilometre off-road track through the heart of the Marlborough Sounds offers pristine wilderness, spectacular views and thigh-burning ascents.

ALPS 2 OCEAN

The longest continuous cycle trail in New Zealand, this 300-kilometre jaunt starts from the country’s highest mountain, Mount Cook, and finishes in the coastal town of Oamaru. The best bit? It’s all downhill.

MOUNTAINS TO SEA

Beginning in the otherworldly Tongariro National Park, this four to six day route uses bike trails, public roads and a jetboat to deliver riders to the coast at Wanganui.

For a complete list of NZ’s Great Rides, see nzcycletrail上海龙凤419m.

TRIP NOTES

The writer travelled as a guest of PureTrails and Air New Zealand.

MORE INFORMATION

newzealand上海龙凤419m.

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand flies direct from Sydney and Melbourne to Christchurch. Phone 13 24 76; see airnewzealand上海龙凤419m.au.

SEE + DO

PureTrails offers regular departures of its guided five-day Great Taste Trail cycle trip between October and April, from $1400 including accommodation, meals and excursions. See puretrailsnewzealand上海龙凤419.nz.

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More to be caught in tax net on surging Sydney land values

More property investors will be caught in the property tax net with the resurgent Sydney property market pushing up residential land values at a double-digit pace in the wake of historically low interest rates and the revived NSW economy.
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Land values across the state rose 11.2 per cent in 2014, which was led by a strong 13.1 per cent rise in residential land values, according to data released on Friday by the NSW Valuer General.

Willoughby, Bankstown and Hornsby led the gains in residential land values across Sydney, with Mosman, Camden and Ryde witnessing the lowest rise in values among Sydney council areas.

The eastern suburbs regained the crown from the lower north shore as the area with the most expensive median land values in the state, with median residential land values in Woollahra, which takes in Double Bay, Point Piper and Vaucluse, reaching $1.4 million, eclipsing Mosman’s median of $1.39 million.

“The past 12 months has seen a significant increase in large parts of the market – particularly the middle ring,” said the NSW Valuer General,  Simon Gilkes.

“There were not the large increases at the high end of the market and in the outer areas, but rather the inner west and areas close to transport, such as Chatswood and the Hills district, partly due to the new rail link.”

Low interest rates has brought both owner occupiers and investors into the market, he said.

The values are based primarily on property sales data, with more than 43,000 sales assessed.

The year was market by a “ripple out effect” from gains in the inner ring of the city’s suburbs, he said.

Median land values in areas such as Leichhardt and Marrickville continued to rise strongly – up 17.4 per cent and 19.9 per cent respectively – but this was outpaced by gains a little further out such as Canterbury – up 21.4 per cent – and Bankstown (up 29.4 per cent).

The updated valuation data will have a direct effect in broadening the land tax net, where it is applicable, and is also used by councils when assessing rate variations, Mr Gilkes said. At the top end of the market, the rise in land values have been more restrained which is due in part to the already high level of prices in those areas.

“The increases were not as strong in the highly valued suburbs since fewer people may have been able to raise the money needed” to buy into these suburbs, Mr Gilkes said.

Slavko Romic, the principal of Elders Double Bay, said the new year has started where last year finished.

“It’s been strong since the start of the new year. Inquiries are running at peak levels, and we’re not alone with other agents reporting the same level of activity,” he said.

“There is not a lot of stock available, so over-demand and under-supply, along with low interest rates, is keeping interest high.”

A year ago, only Mosman and Woollahra had land values of more than $1 million. Now, they have been joined by Willoughby, Manly, Hunters Hill and Waverley, with North Sydney and Lane Cove just falling short of this figure.

The updated valuation data are used by about one third of councils each year when revising rates. This year, Blacktown, Liverpool, Ku-ring-gai, the Hills, Maitland and Leichhardt will use the updated data when setting rates.

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Arlberg, Austria, where apres ski was invented

It’s just turned 3:30 on a mid-week afternoon in St Anton and the ski slopes are completely empty. Despite boot-deep powder snow and clear blue skies it’s the time of the day every skier’s attention in the Arlberg region shifts entirely to apres ski over downhill skiing. I ride down to world-famous apres ski bar, Heustadl, on the ski slopes above St Anton’s historic village. Hundreds of skis and snowboards have been thrown haphazardly against far too few ski racks; the excess sprawl out onto the slopes. How anyone remembers whose skis belong to whom is a modern-day Austrian mystery. Outside Heustadl, a group of male skiers dressed as buxom Viking women drink glasses of cold beer beside skiers dressed as various super heroes, and as gigantic, fluffy bunnies, and cats … even roosters. I push the heavy bar door open and step inside. Skiers and boarders are packed in like sweaty sardines, the Village Peoples’ YMCA is playing at high volume and get this: the entire bar is dancing along. Women in ski boots dance on bars, men – just like Australians, with little natural rhythm – sway their hips and wave their arms; no-one’s too cool to join in… “it’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A,” every single patron of the bar forms the Y, the M, the C and the A together, and for the 100th time in a decade of both living here and visiting on ski vacations, I think: this could only happen in Austria.
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“This is our love affair… skiing,” young Austrian snowboarder Georg Hatig says outside the bar. “We take everything about skiing as a matter of national pride, even apres skiing… actually, especially apres skiing.” Austria is a country governed entirely by traditional rules and strict protocol. Living here and fitting in, as I discovered, can be complicated. But Austria’s ski regions are the exception, especially here in the Arlberg region.

“Austrians unwind when we ski, we don’t have to follow the old rules,” local Franzi Koell says. “Maybe that is why we go that little bit crazy here. Every ski resort on Earth tries to copy our apres ski, but there is only one Arlberg.” Indeed, the very concept of apres ski was said to have started here in St Anton.

Meanwhile, just across the valley within the more cultured confines of up-market ski village, Lech,  the favoured ski destination of the late Princess Diana,  1964 Austrian Olympic downhill ski gold medallist Egon Zimmermann rubs his tired eyes and lets out a sigh. “Yes, it is exhausting, of course,” he says. Zimmermann’s run a guesthouse in Lech for 40 years; he treats every guest like family, every single guest. “We try hard to make every guest feel at home, this is what we do in Austria.”

Even back home at Victoria’s Mt Buller ski resort, Australia’s most famous Austrian guesthouse host, Hans Grimus, nods his head and agrees.  “Austrians create monsters for themselves,” he says. “Every person that’s come to my pension and restaurant wants to share a schnapps with me, so what do I do? I share a schnapps with them. In Austria, that is what we do.”

Austria’s Arlberg ski culture has been exported across the ski world, serving as the blueprint for many of the world’s ski resorts. Modern skiing was invented here on these slopes 100 years ago by Arlberg skier Hannes Scheider, then disseminated to every corner of the globe. Even our own ski resorts, especially Thredbo and Mt Buller, are like living, breathing Arlberg ski museums.

It’s a region defined by much more than its majestic mountains – although these are some of Europe’s most dramatic – rather it’s the Arlberg’s reliance on family-owned businesses, and its unrivalled sense of fun that elucidates it.

“I know of a group of American ski managers who were taken to the Arlberg recently and they said they realised they still had so much to learn about how to create atmosphere from us,” Grimus says. “Americans know grooming, Austrians know atmosphere.”

On a recent trip to a ski resort in Colorado, a bar owner told me: “We’ve tried so long to create that Arlberg magic but the Austrians just seem to get it where no-one else does.”

There are no hotel chains in the Arlberg and its ski villages are old farming towns with thousand-year histories. You’ll find barbers, shopkeepers, bakers and milkmen going about their business in tiny, traditional villages, as they always have, and always will. In most parts of the Arlberg, skiers must take free buses between ski villages – cars aren’t allowed (car parks are hidden away underground), and there’s a limit to day visitors for the comfort of overnight guests.  Nor are there unsightly electricity cables or telegraph lines, and strict standards are set on building heights – few buildings stand higher than three storeys, and houses in general cannot occupy more than half a block of land. Those who own guesthouses in most areas of the Arlberg must also live here and run them, ensuring a level of personal service you won’t experience anywhere else.

“When some of the ski resort people from France came here they said ‘oh, we made a big mistake, we brought in big hotel chains, big apartments, big highways and big parking lots,” Lech guesthouse owner Hubert Schwarzler says. “Their big mistake, they admit, was they bought the locals out. There’s no barbers, no bakers, it’s all about big business. Customers come and they’re treated like numbers. That will never happen in the Arlberg.”

“Visiting the Arlberg is like coming to the world’s most beautiful and challenging ski terrain that’s actually right outside your grandma’s house,” local skier Georg Hartig says. Many pensions are guilty of a quaint kitschness you won’t find elsewhere, complete with doilies, Christmas music and Michael Buble on high rotation. But it all creates a level of comfort you won’t find in chain hotels. “Guests should feel like they’re at home with family, that is the Austrian way,” Zimmermann says. “Take your boots off, put on your slippers, this is your house, you are not in a hotel.”

The Arlberg region, which sits in Austria’s south-western corner bordered by Switzerland, actually comprises five uniquely different ski villages and offers 84 cable cars and lifts providing access to a whopping 280 kilometres of groomed ski runs and 180 kilometres of open free-riding terrain… all on the one ski ticket.

Every ski taste is catered for in the Arlberg; from the youthful exuberance of St Anton’s world-famous nightlife to the high-end comforts of Austria’s most prestigious ski destination, Lech; the exclusive St Christoph, the ski-in, ski-out convenience of Zurs and cosy Stuben, home to just 100 year-round locals.

Only the ski villages of Switzerland can possibly match the Arlberg’s spectacular alpine scenery. Here, baroque churches and timbered chalet-style houses of hanging eaves and carved balconies draped with snow look out across soaring valleys. Avalanche barriers are the only obstacles stopping villages below sheer mountain passes being swept away by winter’s regular snow storms. Even mountain goats cling on for dear life in a terrain that climbs from 1400 metres to over 3000 metres.

After the humiliation of World War II, it was the Arlberg’s emerging ski industry that Austria turned to in an effort to rebuild itself.

“Skiing was the only thing that kept the Arlberg going after World War II,” Schwarzler says. “Skiing rebuilt the Arlberg, Austria was down and defeated, and that is why the Arlberg is so important to Austria. The Arlberg helped Austria back on its feet; no-one forgets that. That’s why we toast it every day with a schnapps, and every afternoon everyone is invited to help us celebrate.”

The Arlberg’s Best Apres Ski Bars 

Krazy Kanguruh, St Anton

Operating non-stop since 1965, the Krazy Kanguruh is known as the original home of apres ski in St Anton. With a deck overlooking St Anton, it offers the best afternoon atmosphere with delicious goulash and dumplings to keep you going till dinner (krazykanguruh上海龙凤419m/en).

Heustadl, St Anton

Designed to look like an old Austrian hay barn, Heustadl has St Anton’s most lively apres ski scene. Empty till 3.30pm, it peaks at 4 with live music played five times a week. There’s also deckchairs outside, and it offers the best ribs on the mountain (heustadl上海龙凤419m)

Mooserwirt, St Anton

One of Europe’s most renowned ski après spots, Mooserwirt is located in St Anton. It sells more beer per square metre than anywhere else in Austria and if you arrive after 4pm you have no chance of finding a seat, action begins daily with the playing of Europe’s The Final Countdown (mooserwirt上海龙凤419m).

Frozen Ice Bar, Lech

In keeping with Lech’s more sophisticated persona, the Frozen Ice Bar, located at 1800 metres above sea level on Lech’s ski slopes, offers a more luxurious approach to apres ski.  It’s made entirely from ice and offers a playful apres environment with a touch of luxury,  (lechzuerslaloupe上海龙凤419m).

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

austria.info/au.

GETTING THERE

Emirates Airlines fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Zurich every day via Dubai, see emirates-airlines上海龙凤419m.au. Transfer to the Arlberg with Arlberg Express, see arlbergshuttle上海龙凤419m

STAYING THERE

Stay just above Lech village at Hotel Kristberg, see hotel-kristberg.at, stay in the exclusive village of St Christoph in the Arlberg’s most revered hotel, the Arlberg Hospiz Hotel, see arlberghospiz.at, stay in St Anton with views over the slopes at Hotel Alkira, see alkira.at/en

SKIING THERE

For information on the Arlberg and  its five ski villages and lift passes, see arlberg.at; for lift passes, see skiarlberg上海龙凤419.

The writer travelled courtesy of the Austrian National Tourist Office.

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Women of Letters: Take risks, scare yourself stupid and have a shitload of fun

Between Us, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire.
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Co-curators: Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Between Us, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire.

Co-curators: Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Between Us, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire.

Co-curators: Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy. Photo: Kate Geraghty

“By the time I get to you,” Stella Young wrote in a letter to her 80-year-old self, “I’ll have written things that change the way people think about disability. I’ll have been part of a strong, beautiful proud movement of disabled people in Australia.”

The fourth Women of Letters collection, Between Us, opens with this contribution, which has since taken on a meaning that Young, and the books curators, could never have foreseen. Just a couple of weeks after its publication in December, the comedian, commentator and disability activist died at age 32.

“I suppose I can’t really write this letter to you without talking about the assumption, the expectation, that people like us die young,” Young had written. With her typical wit and verve, she wrote that her aged self would “almost certainly have a hover-chair by now”.

“I will do everything I can to meet you, eighty-year-old Stell.”

Michaela McGuire, co-founder and curator of Women of Letters with Marieke Hardy, says while the publicity surrounding Young’s letter has brought people to Women of Letters who might not have been aware of it before, the pair are also dealing with the death of a close friend.

“For someone as stubborn as Stella, I think it’s actually quite fitting that she has written her own eulogy and that her word would be the last word on the subject,” says McGuire. “I think she would have been quite happy about that. Obviously it’s hard, especially this early on, not to feel just very saddened that she was taken from us so soon.”

McGuire and Hardy had come across Young after she had urged them to move their Women of Letters monthly readings to a wheelchair-accessible venue, which they moved to in 2013, Melbourne’s Regal Ballroom. “That was specifically because Stella had been so wonderful about it, not bossing us around but being quite firm in telling us we could lead by example,” says McGuire.

The two curators have led by example in many ways with Women of Letters. It began in Melbourne in 2010, with author McGuire, and Hardy, a writer, broadcaster and panellist on the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club, seeking a way to spotlight women writers and raise money for Edgar’s Mission animal sanctuary in Victoria. Participants write and read out a letter on a theme set by McGuire and Hardy and on the understanding that readings will not be recorded, although with the writer’s permission, some letters are published in the collections.

Women of Letters has become an ever-growing success story, with a tour last year to Britain, Ireland and the US, including a sold-out New York show that has led to a new monthly event in the city. Most importantly, it continues to attract high-profile names – women and men – from the worlds of literature, entertainment and the arts to take part. It is difficult to imagine, under the relentless scrutiny of social media, that these famous names might feel safe enough to disclose personal, painful and private stories and thoughts, but this is what Women of Letters has achieved. More than a tip of the hat to the lost art of letter writing, it’s a mixture of the confessional, a session on the psychiatrist’s couch, a diary entry, a chat with a close friend.

It’s where people such as The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie actor Edie Falco read a letter A Letter to the Last Time I Ever Drank. It’s where Tim Flannery read a letter he’d wished he’d sent two years earlier to his father, who died soon after the emotional reading at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in October.

Readings are powerful because of the intimacy and trust struck up between writer and audience, with a privileged few sharing this moment of catharsis.

“The C word is a good one,” says Hardy. “We never set out when we started the shows to be emotionally manipulative or say this is going to be a great event where we make our audience or readers cry, it’s going to be a tearjerker. But about four shows in, we realised that people were being very emotionally honest in a way that we hadn’t expected.”

Hardy says they have examined this outcome a lot and says it’s partly due to the intimate act of letter writing and the no-recording policy which creates this “weird safe space” for writers.

What emerges is something of great value not only to the audience and readers, but to the writers themselves. Says McGuire, “[It gives writers] the chance to get something off their chest that maybe they didn’t know was that important to talk about, but once they have, they realise it was important to unpack something that’s happened to them or how they feel about something.”

Between Us includes a letter by the author Cate Kennedy who appeared at a reading just days after her mother’s funeral. She wrote about clearing her mother’s house out, in another letter themed around writing to the 80-year-old self, and told Hardy and McGuire she absolutely needed to do this.

“She’d just packed up her mother’s house,” Hardy says. “She said ‘I’ve been surrounded by stuff, stuff that my mother left behind, all the good china that was never used. All I want to leave behind is stories, so when I die, I want to die with a cup of tea in my hand and none of this. I don’t want my children to be packing up all these things when we should have been using the china and making it dirty.”

“It was so raw and beautiful. It’s an amazing piece of writing. She’s a great writer, but being in the room while she was delivering it was incredibly powerful.”

In the letter, Kennedy writes: “Have you done the things that give stuff its life, so that any descendants you may have inherit a treasure-house of stories rather than objects?… Please say yes…”

Between Us stretches beyond the heavy emotions of death and grieving across a wide range of topics. Actor Rhys Muldoon swaps jovial love letters with Kram, the singer of 1990s rockers Spiderbait. Actors Claudia Karvan and Jeremy Lindsay Taylor write about relationship counselling as their characters Judy and Martin from Puberty Blues. Jane Caro writes about ageing and life now that her children have fled the roost.

Contributors here and overseas have come about through personal connections, leveraging off the rocketing profile of the project, and good old-fashioned hassling. “We’ve really disgraced ourselves begging everywhere around the world,” says Hardy. Their current wishlist includes Julia Gillard, Cate Blanchett and Maggie Beer.

“We’re the most annoying people in the Australian literary scene,” says Hardy, admitting they’re probably on “some sort of shitlist” with Blanchett’s publicists. “But until she takes up a restraining order on us, we’re trying for Blanchett.”

One imagines it’s only a matter of time until Blanchett can find space in her schedule to take part, joining a long line of people creating incredibly powerful readings in conversely ephemeral settings, leaving permanent records of secrets, wisdom gained and personal pledges.

“On my path to reach you,” wrote Young to her 80-year-old self, “I promise to grab every opportunity with both hands, to say yes as often as I can, to take risks, to scare myself stupid, and to have a shitload of fun.

“See you in our hover-chair, lady.”

Between Us: Words of Wit and Wisdom from Women of Letters is published by Viking, $29.99. 

And another thing

The first international edition, Airmail: Women of Letters, featuring Lionel Shriver, Moby, Tim Minchin, Martha Wainwright, Monica McInerney and more, will be published in April.

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Tim O’Brien’s bush horses join National Museum of Australia’s ‘Spirited’ exhibition

Tim O’Brien and palomino Roxy at Boggy Creek, Tumbarumba. Photo: Heidi Pritchard, National Museum of AustraliaCanberra Life: Your home for the Canberra arts
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A resourceful bushman, Tim O’Brien once used his four dogs to keep warm while injured on the ground on a remote Snowy Mountains cattle station after being thrown from his horse.

The fourth generation cattleman and shearer is riding high these days, about to join the National Museum of Australia’s Spirited exhibition which honours horses, in Canberra from January 15.

But years ago, while riding a young horse to move cattle between Tumbarumba and Corryong, he fell and was knocked senseless. He came to unaware of what had happened and waited hours before he was discovered lying on his back, hanging on to the reins of his horse.

“Lucky I couldn’t get up because if I did I would have headed in the wrong direction, because I lost all my bearings,” O’Brien says. “It was getting dark near the middle of winter, I had four dogs with me, laying on me keeping me a bit warm, it was cold.”

Eventually he was found and taken to hospital. He recovered and, growing tired of working away from home as a shearer and stockman, developed a horse show at Tumbarumba.

O’Brien’s journey is typical of the bonds between people and their horses which feature in Spirited.  He will show his close relationships with four horses in shows at the museum’s loop amphitheatre.

The O’Briens came from Ireland to Tumbarumba in the 1880s after gold had brought settlement to the area. These days he runs an Angus cattle stud. He has bred and trained brumbies which he trapped with his father for the forestry commission. They lure the wild horses into temporary yards with a salt block.

“Because of the high rainfall the area lacks in salt up here. That’s how we muster most of our cattle out of the  mountains as well, using salt.”

He bred a foal from a brumby mare and palomino stallion brought from a neighbour for $50. He named his buckskin horse ‘Minstrel’ and has developed his training methods from there.

“We used an old-fashioned method, we roped her, whereas now we know a lot more and work a lot more on their natural instinct to want to be a herd animal,” O’Brien says.

“You present yourself as a leader and they want to follow you because you are the leader of their herd, so to speak.

“You put pressure on a horse. I might step in on its hindquarter which makes it want to face me and I will take the pressure off [by walking away] and the horse realises  I am not going to hurt them, but is comfortable to look at me and be with me.”

These days he performs with Ramjet, a quarter horse gelding he brought from a neighbour [“he’s named Roger”] for $250. The early training was to prepare for the Man from Snowy River bush festival at Corryong.

“To do those challenges you have got to be really good and your horse needs to be good, so that got him started. I started teaching him tricks, so I could do all those challenges. I could ride him around without a saddle or bridle. He lays down, picks things up.”

The skills form O’Brien’s Boggy Creek show, which draws groups of between 30 and 60 tourists.

“What we do is real Australian,” he says. “We have pack horses, working dogs, I’m a shearer so I shear the sheep. There’s a lot of history in what we do, a lot of comedy too. We have kids here, school groups, pre-school up to seniors.”

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Security measures won’t be ramped up for ANZ Stadium Asian Cup fixtures

Not a high risk: security will be as normal for the Uzbekistan/North Korea clash on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Dallas Kilponen Not a high risk: security will be as normal for the Uzbekistan/North Korea clash on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
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Not a high risk: security will be as normal for the Uzbekistan/North Korea clash on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Not a high risk: security will be as normal for the Uzbekistan/North Korea clash on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Socceroos get off to flying start in Asian Cup with 4-1 win over KuwaitThe perfect start as Socceroos show glimpses of Ange Postecoglou’s visionPostecoglou has reason to smile after Socceroos blitz Kuwait

Security for the first Asian Cup game held in Sydney will be vigilant, but no excess measures will be in place for those heading to ANZ Stadium on Saturday night for the match between Uzbekistan and North Korea.

A normal police presence for a football match at the stadium will be present but no increased checks, searches or screening measures will be in place around the precinct for Sydney’s first hosting match. Forecasts based on ticket sales indicate a crowd of between 12,000 and 15,000 is expected to walk through the gates for a match between two nations with no significant diaspora in Australia.

The predicted attendance and nature of the Group B clash means security officials and NSW Police do not deem the game as a “high risk”.

“We continue to liaise with NSW police and our security plans are in line with NSW Police and the organisers of the event,” a stadium spokesman said.

The predicted crowd figure allays fears of an embarrassingly small attendance for arguably the lowest profile match of the tournament. While North Korea and Uzbekistan are hardly minnows in Asia, neither were considered a “drawcard” team for the tournament and have few players known by the public. The draw for the Asian Cup was made after the selection of venues and dates by the local organising committee.

The two nations form what is regarded by some as the tournament’s “group of death” alongside Saudi Arabia and China. With no powerhouse or whipping boys in the group, it is contested by four teams of a similar calibre. Uzbekistan and North Korea share recent history, being pitted together in the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup. In both games, Uzbekistan registered narrow 1-0 victories over “Chollima”.

“I think every team is dangerous if you think you’re going to win the match before the game; it’s not right and you can lose. Every team is dangerous for us but hopefully we will win all the games in the group,” defender Vitaliy Denisov said.

Uzbekistan fancy their chances of progressing further than the group and set a target of reaching the final of the tournament. “I hope we go to the final, we have a really good team now, experience and youth,” centre-back Anzur Ismailov said.

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Tributes flow for Kep Enderby: ‘Champion for the ACT’ dies

From left, Gough Whitlam, Sir John Kerr, Tom Uren, Kep Enderby and Jim Cairns at Government House. Photo: Fairfax LibraryFormer federal Labor politician Kep Enderby was described as a champion of the ACT by his admirers after his death on Wednesday at age 88.
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The former QC, NSW Supreme Court judge and attorney-general in Gough Whitlam’s government was a major player in the governance of the ACT.

He was minister for the ACT under Whitlam, the MP for the seat of Canberra and as attorney-general brought forward a bill decriminalising homosexuality and abortion in the territory.

His death coincided with a move by the ACT Government to expunge historical convictions of gay men having consensual sex.

Fraser MP Andrew Leigh said it was appropriate “we should be looking at this with the passing of Kep Enderby this week”.

“He was a great champion for the ACT,” Dr Leigh said.

“He was somebody who drove important legislative reforms on racial discrimination, on no-fault divorce, and indeed on legalising sexual relationships between consenting adults in the ACT.

“He was somebody who never fluctuated in his principles, somebody who held fast to his view as a social democrat.”

Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann said Mr Enderby had been described by the ACT Labor family as having a gifted mind.

“As the current member for Canberra, I pay tribute to Kep for his vision for our city and nation (and) commitment to social justice,” she said.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr he was deeply saddened by the news of the death.

“He was a passionate Labor man who fought strongly for Labor values,” Mr Barr said.

ACT Labor MLA Chris Bourke said Mr Enderby championed the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people during the Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest which Mr Bourke called “one of the most effective political actions in Australian history”.

“In 1972, as ALP spokesperson for the Interior, Enderby stood up against the McMahon government’s attempts to tear down the Tent Embassy,” he said.

Mr Enderby, a skilled golfer, studied law at Sydney University and lectured at the Australian National University.

He moved to Sydney at the end of his political career.

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Socceroos get off to flying start in Asian Cup with 4-1 win over Kuwait

Australian captain Jedinak suffers injury scareThe perfect start as Socceroos show glimpses of Ange Postecoglou’s visionPostecoglou has reason to smile after Socceroos blitz KuwaitSecurity measures won’t be ramped up for ANZ Stadium Asian Cup fixtures
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The Socceroos got off to a flying start in their Asian Cup opener, defeating Kuwait 4-1 on a rainy night in Melbourne – but not before giving the 25,000-plus crowd an early scare.

Ange Postecoglou’s team trailed for more than 20 minutes in the first half after conceding an early lead before getting on top of their  game but outclassed opponents

Tim Cahill – who else – spared the nation’s blushes when he levelled in the 33rd minute after Australia had been rocked to  its foundations when the Kuwaitis, whom few had given any chance, took a shock lead in the eighth minute.

Cahill’s leveller steadied nerves. Massimo Luongo put Australia in front shortly before the interval and captain Mile Jedinak wrapped the game up with a penalty in the 62nd minute. James Troisi iced the cake with a fourth in stoppage time.

The margin could have been greater as Australia twice hit the woodwork, through Mathew Leckie and Nathan Burns.

Kuwait had barely got out of their own half in the opening minutes as the hosts, inspired by a vociferous crowd bedecked in yellow team shirts, roared them on. But when they did the visitors made the most of their opportunity.

Sultan Alenezi broke down the right and played a backheel to teammate Khaled Alqahtani, who returned the pass before Alenezi played it forward to go out for a corner.

From the resultant set piece Australia’s defenders stood and watched as Ali Hussain Fadhel ran unchecked to stoop and head the cross past Mat Ryan in the Australian goal.

It was hardly the start the hosts had expected and a stunned silence fell  as the pessimists in the crowd began to wonder if history would repeat: the last time Kuwait played the Socceroos on Australian soil they had pulled off a stunning 1-0 win in Canberra in an Asian Cup qualifier in 2009.

The Kuwaitis, long on endeavour and commitment but short on adventure, parked not one but a fleetload of buses in front of their own goal and sought to hold on to an advantage they could only have dreamed of enjoying so early in the game.

Would the Socceroos panic? Would they have the quality to break down the massed ranks of Kuwait resistance and find a way to avoid being on the end of the sort of upset which is all too common for host nations in the opening games of major tournaments.

Postecoglou’s side enjoyed the bulk of possession but were frustrated on numerous occasions by desperate Kuwaiti defence and their inability to find the pass that would thread  a way through.

Postecoglou had sprung a surprise in his starting line-up, leaving out the experienced Mark Bresciano and starting young Luongo in midfield.

It was a move that raised eyebrows but was to pay dividends. Luongo, a former Tottenham youth team player now at pace-setting League One club Swindon Town, may lack the guile of his seniors. But his energy, dynamism and drive added zest to the attack and it was he who set up Cahill for the equaliser just after the half-hour mark.

Luongo received the ball from an Ivan Franjic throw on the right and powered away from three opponents before pulling the ball back for Cahill to sweep a rising shot past Hameed Youssef, who in truth had had little to do to that point.

The goal was the least Australia deserved for its pressure, and having broken through once it always looked likely to go on and get a second – as it duly did just before the interval.

And it was Luongo again who made the difference, this time applying the finishing touch himself when he rose to head home from a Franjic cross, getting away from defenders and connecting with the ball just before Cahill could launch himself in its direction.

The second half began as the first half had ended, with the Australians buzzing and looking to put the game to bed with a third goal. Cahill almost got a second just before the hour mark when the ball broke to him inside the penalty area and he drove low, only to be denied by a good save from Hameed.

Then  Leckie came agonisingly close with a thunderous drive which beat the goalkeeper all ends up but crashed to safety off the underside of the crossbar.

The third goal came shortly after however, and it arrived from the penalty spot after Robbie Kruse, who had drawn a number of fouls all evening, was brought down in the area.  Jedinak calmly sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and stroked the ball into an empty net. Substitute  Burns went close, Hameed produced some good saves and although Kuwait showed some more adventure as they sought to reduce the deficit there was only going to be one winner.

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