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Revealed: Abbott government tried to remove Gillian Triggs as head of the Australian Human Rights Commission

21/09/2019

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, has defended the commission’s impartiality. Photo: Daniel Munoz President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, has defended the commission’s impartiality. Photo: Daniel Munoz
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President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, has defended the commission’s impartiality. Photo: Daniel Munoz

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, has defended the commission’s impartiality. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Attorney-General George Brandis Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Illustration: Ron Tandberg.

Comment: Abbott should heed the messageComment: It’s not about you, Tony, It’s about the childrenLife is jail: the powerful drawings of children in immigration detentionSeven charts about children in detention

The Abbott government sought the resignation of the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs two weeks before it launched an extraordinary attack on the commission over its report on children in immigration detention.

The request was conveyed orally by an official on behalf of Attorney-General senator George Brandis. It was rejected outright by Professor Triggs, who saw it as an attack on the independence and integrity of the commission and herself.

Fairfax Media understands that no grounds were given for seeking Professor Triggs’ resignation and that she was told “some other opportunity” would be available to her if she resigned.

Professor Triggs, a former barrister and academic, was appointed president of the commission in July 2012 for a fixed five-year term that is intended to protect the president from political interference.

She can be sacked for bankruptcy or serious misconduct.

The approach came a fortnight before the government tabled late on Wednesday the commission’s The Forgotten Children report calling for a royal commission into the detention of children under Labor and Coalition governments since 1992.

The report found that detention had caused significant mental and physical illness to children and was in breach on Australia’s international obligations. It called for the release into the community of more than 300 children in detention on the mainland and on Nauru.

The government was handed the report in November and tabled it late on the last possible day available under convention.

Mr Abbott has branded the report a “transparent stitch-up”, saying the commission would have been better advised to write former immigration minister Scott Morrison a congratulatory letter for stopping the boats.

His attacks were echoed by ministers including Senator Brandis, Mr Morrison, and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

A spokesman for Senator Brandis declined to offer any comment or answer questions submitted by Fairfax Media, but the Attorney-General and his department secretary, Chris Moraitis, will face questions on the issue when they appear before a Senate committee on February 24.

Professor Triggs, who will appear before the committee on the same day, refused to comment on the push to remove her when contacted by Fairfax Media on Friday.

But she mounted a strong defence of the commission’s impartiality, saying it had tabled numerous reports critical of the impact of mandatory immigration detention to the former Labor government and had intervened in the High Court to oppose its so-called “Malaysian solution”.

“I am very disappointed that the substance of the report is being ignored for an inaccurate allegation of bias,” she said.

The inquiry had been planned to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the commission’s first investigation of children in detention and was called “when the government was not releasing children and their period of detention had reached unacceptable levels”, she said.

Reports raising concerns about the impact of detention on children had been tabled in 2012 and 2013 during the period of Labor rule, she said.

“To suggest that, all of a sudden, the commission concentrated on the issue because there was a new government is a serious misrepresentation of the facts.”

Government criticism of the report has focused on the timing and the fact that it has dramatically reduced the number of children in detention from the peak of almost 2000 under the former government.

But Professor Triggs has said she welcomed the fall in the number of children in detention under the Abbott government from around 1100 to 211 on the mainland and 119 on Nauru. “I totally reject any suggestion that this report is a politicised exercise.”

She has also rejected the government’s claim that the report is out-of-date, saying more than 300 children are still in detention.

“This is a document of record, but it’s a document of a continuing position in relation to these children.”

The shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, said it was shameful that the government had questioned the integrity the Human Rights Commission’s leadership.

“Good governments don’t attack independent institutions, they respect them,” he said. “This allegation is deeply concerning. Senator Brandis must urgently explain his actions.”

Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said: “Professor Triggs is an eminent Australian who has been working diligently in a difficult policy area. It is outrageous that this government has sought to besmirch her reputation.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, described the move as “bullying and intimidation” and an attempt to shut down dissent.

“The government thought it could scare Gillian Triggs out of her job, but it turns out they picked on the wrong person,” she said.

Ben Saul, professor of international law at The University of Sydney, defended Professor Triggs and the commission, saying they had performed their roles faithfully.

“The commission’s report on children in immigration detention is a credible, impartial, evidence-based assessment of Australia’s compliance with its international legal obligations.

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Breakfast in London, cocktails in Madrid: Europe’s express trains

21/09/2019

The old-fashioned restaurant at Gare de Lyon in Paris. Photo: iStock The old-fashioned restaurant at Gare de Lyon in Paris. Photo: iStock
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The old-fashioned restaurant at Gare de Lyon in Paris. Photo: iStock

The old-fashioned restaurant at Gare de Lyon in Paris. Photo: iStock

I’m sitting in the Velasquez Bar of the Ritz in Madrid, listlessly twiddling an olive inside my cocktail. It’s not just the eye-watering price of my drink that’s disappointing; it’s the length of time it took to get here. I’m the best part of 24 hours late, having spent a night in Barcelona, en route here from London by train.

I say late, because I travelled a little before a new rail link made it possible to comfortably travel here by rail in the same day. Thanks to the new route, it’s now possible to have breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, dinner in Barcelona and cocktails in Madrid, skipping on and off the train to do so.

All of this should have happened in early 2013 when the high speed lines were completed between Paris and Barcelona. It’s hard to know where to assign the blame for the delays, but suffice to say they were bureaucratic rather than technical in nature. In any case, with hold-ups and transfers at the France-Spain border I had to divide my journey with a night in Catalonia, having set off from London yesterday morning.

As a Brit, to take a culinary journey through Europe is an exercise in humility, so inferior is our food compared to that of our neighbours. Only in the past decade or so, with the incessant rise of cookery TV programs, have we started to care more about what we eat and where it comes from. We are like a lost tribe finally emerging from a deep cave, crawling into the light with suspicious, near-blind eyes.

But through the dark years, we held onto two things: the Sunday roast, and the cooked breakfast. I may sound like a patriotic boob when I say this, but we do those two meals better than any other country on Earth. The French can keep their namby-pamby croissants and overly strong coffee* – there is no finer way to start the day than the British breakfast.

(*If you’re French and reading this, please disregard. I love your coffee.)

The Plum and Spilt Milk, the on-site restaurant of the Great Northern Hotel just outside London’s St Pancras Station, looks too trendy to serve a decent Full English, but the wizards in the kitchen know exactly what they’re doing: don’t swamp the plate poorly presented slop, choose good quality ingredients, don’t have baked beans polluting everything else on the plate. The price of $33 is undoubtedly expensive for eggs, sausage, bacon, tomato, black pudding and mushrooms, but it’s hard to imagine anyone complaining about their hearty breakfast here.

From here it’s only a short waddle to the station and the Eurostar train to Paris. Once on board, London is quickly left behind, the train shooting through Kent and the unglamorous town of Ashford, before slipping under the Channel and into the world’s longest underwater rail tunnel. It passes so quickly as to seem unremarkable, but it consistently blows my mind that Britain essentially gave up being an island in 1994 when the route opened. I often imagine that things are wildly different on the other side of the water, but the truth is, before you talk to the people or eat their superior bread, it’s very similar to the south east of England. The land is flat, the sky is low and the countryside is largely unremarkable for quite a long time.

Things start to change an hour or so into France. The farm buildings look more continental and the fields appear as though they have the potential to support grape vines. Then, just two hours and 15 minutes after leaving London, ugly tower blocks herald the outskirts of northern Paris.

The Eurostar service ends at the grand Gare du Nord but the train to Spain departs from the Gare de Lyon towards the south of the city. This opens up dozens or so viable places to take an early lunch. Directly opposite the Gare du Nord is the Terminus du Nord, an atmospheric brasserie that appears to have changed little since opening in 1925. Inside it is full of art deco paintings, studded leather chairs and dark wooden tables. At the door an oyster salesman shucks with abandon.

However, I wasn’t anywhere near hungry enough to be eating already, so I walked most of the way to Gare de Lyon. By the time I had an appetite back I found Terminus Lyon and their calorific French onion soup just outside the station. It was quick, delicious and seemed only to employ warm people who were determined to undo the stereotype of the pompous Parisian waiter.

The train south from Paris is a double-decker behemoth, the stopping distance for which must be several kilometres. The day I board, half of the train will only go as far as Perpignan in the south of France, with the other continuing to Figueres on the Spanish border. This is where the new line is different – able to continue straight through from Paris directly, shaving time and hassle off the journey.

An hour or two after leaving Paris the landscape begins to change again, with rolling hills bucking up into the sky. Ancient little villages cling to the top of these stumpy peaks. Their tallest building is always a church. And there are vineyards, of course, eternal vineyards as far as the eye can see in almost every direction.

My Gallic reverie was somewhat grounded when the pickpocket warning came over the Tannoy at Nimes. An unspoken paranoia settled over the carriage and it felt like we were about to be boarded by masked bandits. Every new passenger was greeted with suspicion.

The infamous mañana attitude of the Spanish is not a myth, but it certainly does not apply to their rail network. National carrier Renfe offers refunds to passengers if they are delayed by more than five minutes, but their dedication to punctuality is such that they are rarely issued. As a result, we arrived in Barcelona precisely on time, with no bandits in sight.

Express trains to Madrid leave from this same station every half an hour, completing the journey in just three hours, yet even when the new lines opens, there won’t be much time for dallying in the Catalan capital. That said, for dinner there’s no need to suffer the McDonalds inside the cavernous Sants station either.

The surrounding neighbourhood isn’t exactly the city centre, but plenty of restaurants have popped up all the same. Their quality and prices vary wildly, but I was perfectly happy with Martelo, a cheery little tapas joint just a couple of minutes’ walk from the station’s main entrance. They serve all kinds of Spanish dishes – a long list of chorizo (the miniature sausages boiled in cider were absolutely delicious), cured meats and olives. It can be easy to forget that Barcelona is a seaside town, but not looking at the menu. Our waiter tried to recommend the calamari and steamed sea bass as strongly as he could, but, despite his protests, I ordered steamed pigs’ ears.

The Spanish do simple food with effortless perfection, but not these oreja de cerdo. Or perhaps they do – perhaps the mound of fatty flesh cubes sandwiching a layer of chewy cartilage was flawless. But while I am generally keen to try anything put in front of me, I couldn’t imagine even a ravenous terrier being able to finish that entire plate of ears.

And then it was on to Madrid, directly inland, flying through the flat landscape. The new train will mean this journey will almost always take place in darkness, but in truth the view outside is largely uninspiring anyway. The earth is scorched and barren, only hosting occasional olive groves and abandoned farms. There are just a couple of stops before mighty Madrid, a city that seems to spend much of its day in a stupor before erupting at night. The majority of bars and restaurants don’t open their doors until 8pm, allowing for even the latest arrivals to find somewhere to eat, drink and make merry until dawn. Grey London, a day away by train, where the pubs shut at 10.30pm, may as well be on another planet.  TRIP NOTES MORE INFORMATION

esmadrid南京夜网

visitlondon南京夜网

paris.frSTAYING THERE

In a city full of amazing architecture, the 113-year-old Ritz stands out. A 10-minute walk from the station, it’s a fine place to relax after a long day on the train. But that doesn’t come cheap. Doubles start from $350 based on two sharing, not including breakfast. www.ritz.esGETTING THERE

Raileurope provide tickets throughout the continent. Prices for the London to Madrid trip vary depending on date and class of travel, but start from $594. See raileurope南京夜网.au.

Alternatively, for information on booking independently – and for all matters train related – talk to the Man in Seat 61, seat61南京夜网

All of the major operators have flights to London, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid. See emirates南京夜网, Qantas南京夜网 or Etihad南京夜网

The writer was a guest of Rail Europe, the Great Northern Hotel and the Ritz Madrid. FOUR ALTERNATIVE STOPSBREAKFAST

Full English breakfasts aren’t short on the ground in London – virtually every café and restaurant open in the morning will offer a version of it. Niven’s near the Kings Cross station offers a farmhouse feel in the middle of the city and use responsibly-sourced ingredients. www.nivensfinefood南京夜网LUNCH

The Train Bleu restaurant inside Gare de Lyon is a mass of polished brass, Renaissance paintings and serious-looking waiters in tabards, but the menu’s pricing reflects the restaurant’s age and location, with sprawling tasting menus stretching to €98. www.le-train-bleu南京夜网DINNER

A couple of blocks walk north from Sants station, Lagunak offers food from the other side of Spain. These Basque specialists have been going for 30 years, with a strong emphasis on seafood. The cod-stuffed peppers are a real winner. See lagunakbcn南京夜网COCKTAILS

The bars in Madrid are beyond number, but there aren’t many with better views of the city than the Roof on top of the ME Madrid hotel. Only open when the weather allows (which in Madrid means most nights) it has a sensational cocktail list too. See melia南京夜网

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Day trips from major cities: A bit on the side

21/09/2019

Cesky Krumlov at dusk Photo: iStock Cesky Krumlov at dusk Photo: iStock
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Cesky Krumlov at dusk Photo: iStock

Cesky Krumlov at dusk Photo: iStock

Heritage haven: Cuenca old town. Photo: Guy Wilkinson

Santa Cruz boardwalk.

Arrowtown, New Zealand. Photo: Guy Wilkinson

You’ve arrived in the city, the one you’ve been looking forward to visiting for months. You’ve booked into the fancy hotel and scribbled down the check list of all the things you plan to see and do. You’ll dine at the achingly cool restaurant, wander the world-famous art gallery, hit the top shops, sample all of the postcard-perfect attractions.

But you’re greedy and you want to see even more. One look at the map shows there are other amazing places within easy reach of your big city base. It’s at times like this that a double-dip in the form of a half-day or full-day side-trip from a major city can really add another dimension to your holiday. The smaller, less-heralded destinations, compared to the bigger ones, can offer the discerning traveller a wealth of experiences that can be both less predictable and more rewarding.

And what’s more, they’re usually far easier to organise than you’d expect. Many of them within a short drive or an express or even bullet train ride from major capitals but have a feel that’s worlds apart. The following suggestions include some of my favourite detours; places both unique and within easy reach of major cities.

THE CITY: TOKYO

THE SIDE TRIP: NIKKO

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 140km, hourly fast trains take around two hours.

WHY GO: Nikko is a forested world of ancient shrines encapsulating the glory days of the Edo period from 1600 to 1868. Located in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture it contains some of Japan’s most celebrated temples in a tranquil, woodland landscape.

WHAT TO DO:  Most of the shrines and temples are clustered into one relatively compact area, making it easy to explore by foot. With its lavishly decorated Sunset Gate and hand-carved three wise monkeys sculptures, the ornate Toshogu Shrine is the must-see, but there are dozens more. Though possible as a day trip, stay an extra night –  visit the shrines early to beat the crowds – then head to the nearby Yumoto or Asaya hot springs to unwind.

GETTING THERE:  Take the Limited Express train on the Tobu Isesaki-Nikko-Kinugawa Line from Asakusa Station, Tokyo. See jnto.go.jp; jreast.co.jp

THE CITY: PRAGUE

THE SIDE TRIP: CESKY KRUMLOV

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 175km or around three hours and  45 minutes including train change.

WHY GO: Built around the meandering contours of the Vlatava River, this 12th century UNESCO gem is a charming blend of cobbled alleys, hidden bars and welcoming restaurants. Baroque and Gothic architecture, the waft of goulash and frequent clash of steins transports you to a bygone era.

WHAT TO DO: Part of the joy here lies simply in roaming the old town with no fixed agenda, dropping in on the many museums, shops and galleries before exploring the castle complex guarded by two resident bears. In summertime, it’s worth tackling the river by kayak before toasting your adventure with a few beers in the sunshine at the many bars and restaurants around the river.

GETTING THERE: Take the train from Prague to Cesky Budejovice where you’ll change for the remaining 45-minute ride to Cesky Krumlov. See czechtourism南京夜网; czech-transport南京夜网

THE CITY: QUEENSTOWN

THE SIDE TRIP: ARROWTOWN

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 21km or a 25-minute drive via State Highway 6.

WHY GO:  If Queenstown, New Zealand, is the flashy, showboating party boy, then Arrowtown is the refined older sibling. Heritage architecture, log fires, colourful cafes and a fascinating gold-rush history replace the Bungee jumps, pumping nightlife and adrenalin-fuelled mayhem.

WHAT TO DO:  Head to the Chinese settlement on the banks of the nearby Arrow River to learn more of the captivating gold rush history from the perspective of those who had it toughest. Meander down Buckingham Street, the town’s main hub, to admire the historic buildings and stop for tea and scones. If you’re looking to up the ante, fly-fishing, horse-riding and cycling excursions are all easily arranged at the visitor centre.

GETTING THERE: Bus services run regularly between Queenstown and Arrowtown which is also an easy half-hour or so drive away. See connectabus南京夜网; newzealand南京夜网; arrowtown南京夜网/activities/ 

THE CITY: MONTPELLIER

THE SIDE TRIP: NIMES

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 58km or around one hour by train.

WHY GO: Nimes, France, is home to some of the best Roman ruins in the world, especially the spectacular Amphitheatre built during the reign of Emperor Augustus in the 1st century AD. It has a laidback feel and buzzing café culture.

WHAT TO DO: Check out the mind-blowing Roman architecture, specifically the dazzling Les Arenes, inspired by the Coliseum in Rome and Maison Carre, a temple dating back the 4th century BC. Be sure to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art just opposite, then head to Pont du Gard, an aqueduct built in the 1st century about 20 kilomtres north of the city.

GETTING THERE: Direct trains run regularly from Montpellier to Nimes. See raileurope南京夜网.au; ot-nimes.fr

THE CITY: MADRID

THE SIDE TRIP: CUENCA

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 190km or an hour by train.

WHY GO: To marvel at the Casas Colgados (hanging houses), a cluster of 15th century residences teetering on the edge of a plunging cliff face. It’s also an outdoors Mecca with a surrealist art heritage.

WHAT TO DO: Canyoning, rock climbing, kayaking and windsurfing are all popular excursions in the nearby Sierra de Cuenca region. In the old quarter, a 1200-year-old medieval gem, head to the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art, an outstanding collection of some of Spain’s most acclaimed surrealist artists situated in one of the lovingly restored 15th-century hanging houses.

GETTING THERE: Regular direct trains leave from central Madrid. See raileurope南京夜网.au; spain.info

THE CITY: SAN FRANCISCO

THE SIDE TRIP: SANTA CRUZ

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 118km or a 75-minute drive on major highways.

WHY GO: A vibrant university culture, some of California’s best surf beaches, a thriving tech sector and a pervasive whiff of bohemian elan.

WHAT TO DO:  Stroll the boardwalk, rent a surfboard and hit the waves. Drop in on the Surf Museum, a charmingly ramshackle exhibit detailing the glory days of the sport located in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, (there’s even a board with a chunk bitten out by a Great White). Head to the lively downtown area to enjoy the kicking bar and restaurant scene or explore more than 70 wineries and tasting rooms in the surrounding Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation.

GETTING THERE:  It’s slower—around two hours– but it’s worth taking the scenic route via Highway 1 from San Francisco. See santacruz.org

THE CITY: SIEM REAP

THE SIDE TRIP: BATTAMBANG

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 185km or a three to four-hour drive.

WHY GO: It has a laidback cool you wouldn’t expect from Cambodia’s second most populous city, it’s home to some of the country’s best-preserved French colonial architecture and is teeming with offbeat attractions you just won’t find elsewhere.

WHAT TO DO:  Be sure to catch a show at Phare Ponleu Selpak (literally translated as the brightness of art) a unique visual arts school training disadvantaged kids to ride unicycles, juggle fire sticks and perform acrobatic stunts as part of their tuition in circus performance. Take a ride on the bamboo train, a simple wooden cart powered by a motorbike engine on an old single-line track. Visit the harrowing Killing Caves and Buddhist temple at Phnom Sampeau, brave the local concoctions at Prasat Phnom Banan, Cambodia’s only winery, then climb the 358 steps at nearby Phnom Banan, an 11th-century temple many historians believe was the inspiration behind Angkor Wat.

GETTING THERE: A private taxi between Siem Reap and Battambang costs around $35. Regular bus services are available while boats leave daily in either direction, though it’s a 10-hour trip by river. See capitolkh南京夜网 

THE CITY: LONDON

THE SIDE TRIP: BATH

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 156km or 90 minutes by fast train.

WHY GO: To soak your cares away in some of the best preserved Roman bathhouses in the world, sample a few traditional ales in old school English pubs and check out the cracking art galleries and museums around town.

WHAT TO DO:  In 2006 the Thermae Spa opened to the public allowing visitors to bathe in the geothermic spring water for the first time in nearly 30 years. The bath itself is on the roof, the newly developed complex is a classic fusion of old meets new. The relatively compact city centre is easily explored by foot, there’s an excellent free World Heritage Site audio tour, while the impressive Victoria Art Gallery and Holbourne Museum ensure a worthwhile cultural fix.

GETTING THERE: Frequent direct trains operate between London Paddington and Bath Spa Station. See thetrainline南京夜网; visitbath.co.uk

THE CITY: CAPE TOWN

THE SIDE TRIP: FRANSCHHOEK

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 77km or a one-hour drive.

WHY GO:  Franschhoek is Cape Town’s answer to Sydney’s Hunter Valley, the food and wine capital of the country with over 40 wine cellars, dozens of award winning restaurants and more art galleries than you could wave a paintbrush at.

WHAT TO DO: Aside from repeatedly muttering phrases like “Nutty, yet dextrously balanced,” while lurching from one cellar door to another, learn something of the region’s history at the intriguing Huguenot Memorial Museum, a celebration of the founders of the region. Head down Huguenot Street and check out the Roubaix House Gallery, home to David Walters, SA’s most esteemed potter, then experience wine tasting with a difference onboard the hop-on, hop-off Wine Tram, an open sided vintage contraption taking in some of South Africa’s most illustrious wine estates.

GETTING THERE:  Head out of Capetown following signs for N1 direction Paarl – Johannesburg then look for the R45 turnoff. See franschhoek.org.za; winetram.co.za

THE CITY: DENVER

THE SIDE TRIP: FORT COLLINS

DISTANCE AND TRAVELLING TIME: 105km or a one-hour drive.

WHY GO: The beer. Well, OK it’s also geographically stunning with its location at the foothills of The Rockies and there are countless adventures to be had, from white-water rafting to mountain biking and climbing. But mainly it’s the beer.

WHAT TO DO: Orientate yourself with a hot-air balloon ride high above the majestic Colorado landscape, tackle some of the best single-track mountain bike trails in the world, white-water raft on the nearby Poudre River or explore the rugged peaks of nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. The city is the largest producer of craft beer in the states so it would be remiss not to partake in a brewery tour. Among the best is the Beer and Bikes Tour combining “Two of the best things mankind has ever created.”

GETTING THERE: Follow signs out of Denver to I-25 North. Frequent shuttle services to Fort Collins also operate from Denver airport. See supershuttle南京夜网; beerandbiketours南京夜网; visitftcollins南京夜网

10 MORE ESSENTIAL SIDE TRIPS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

CITY: SHANGHAI

SIDETRIP: NANJING

Rich in cultural and historical significance, China’s one-time capital is a thriving university town on the south banks of the Yangtze River. Encircled by the 600-year-old City Wall of Nanjing, it’s full of trendy cafes, restaurants and ancient Ming Dynasty ruins, not to mention fascinating museums, palaces and temples. See cityofnanjing南京夜网

CITY: BOSTON

SIDE TRIP: SALEM

Salem was home to the infamous 1692 witch trials that saw nearly 20 women burned at the stake. But it was also the epicentre of the clipper ship trade with the Far East from the mid-17th century. The legacy is a fascinating melange of museums, boutique shops, cafes and galleries in a blustery maritime setting. See salem.org

CITY: PARIS

SIDE TRIP: COMPIEGNE

Just north of the capital on the banks of the Oise River, Compiegne blends historical intrigue with a lively cosmopolitan feel. The Chateau, an ornate royal residence restored by Napoleon III, remains the main attraction but there are also forested areas, cycling trails and offbeat cultural attarctions such as Museum of Historical Figurines. See campanile-compiegne.fr

CITY: FLORENCE

SIDE TRIP: SIENA 

Though Florence traditionally steals the limelight, there’s far more to nearby Siena than the bi-annual Palio horse races for which it’s famed. Surrounded by the vineyards and olive groves of Chianti, this medieval city is crammed with stunning gothic architecture and the central Piazza del Campo is among the most attractive squares in Europe. See terresiena.it/en

CITY: GENEVA

SIDE TRIP: LAUSANNE

Museums dedicated to anything from the Olympics to naïve art and photography ensure Lausanne has more to its arsenal than a beautiful lakeside, alpine setting. The city is home to two universities and a cutting-edge design school; the thriving arty culture is juxtaposed by centuries-old cobbled streets and gothic buildings. See lausanne-tourisme.ch/en/

CITY: HERVEY BAY

SIDE TRIP: RAINBOW BEACH

Lush rainforests, pristine white-sand beaches and an infinitely more chilled out feel to the party scene of Hervey Bay, Queensland; lesser known Rainbow Beach is a destination in its own right though it’s only a short barge ride from iconic Fraser Island. Located at the base of the Inskip Peninsula, it also has excellent surf breaks, toweing cliffs, 4WD beach adventures and vast National Parks. See visitfrasercoast南京夜网

CITY: MARRAKECH

SIDE TRIP: ESSAOUIRA

A former favourite of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, this tranquil little fishing port is characterised by blue and white paintjobs, the smell of sea air and ubiquitous battered skiffs bobbing in the harbour. The artistic heritage and cultural diversity only add to its considerable allure; it feels more like Brittany than north Africa. See visitmorocco南京夜网

CITY: BRUSSELS

SIDE TRIP:  GHENT

A maze of waterways, ancient cathedral spires, trams and bicycles give Ghent’s ridiculously appealing town centre a wonderfully historic air. But a lively student population offsets what might easily have become staid, tour-bus hell. There’s a friendly energy to this city often missing from places so knowingly attractive. See visitgent.be

CITY: LISBON

SIDE TRIP: ERICEIRA 

Take an ancient fishing village, add eight kilometres of world-class surf coastline, fresh seafood, a compact town centre filled with white-washed buildings and undulating cobbled streets and you get the idea why this is special little town is so highly regarded. See visitportugal南京夜网

CITY: BANGKOK

SIDE TRIP: KANCHANABURI

Infamous for its dark World War II legacy – the city was the setting for Pierre Boulle’s The Bridge on the River Kwai –  Kanchanaburi has since re-invented itself into a far happier destination where the surrounding forests, waterfalls and hilltop monasteries of Wat Tham Seua and Wat Tham Khao Noi make an intriguing divergence from Thailand’s hectic capital. See tourismthailand.org

FIVE SIDE TRIPS FROM AUSTRALIAN CAPITALS

CITY: SYDNEY

SIDE TRIP: MUDGEE

Although it’s the third-largest grape-producing region in the state, Mudgee has the historic feel and boutique cellar doors but without the hordes. Situated on the edge of Wollemi National Park, it’s a perfect weekend getaway. See visitnsw南京夜网/Mudgee

CITY: MELBOURNE

SIDE TRIP: DAYLESFORD

The former goldmining town is perfect for the city slicker to unwind; it contains Australia’s largest concentration of natural hot springs set amongst lush alpine and forest scenery. See visitvictoria南京夜网

CITY: BRISBANE

SIDE TRIP: MORETON ISLAND

Ride the ferry from Brisbane for a 4WD adventure around this scenic sand island that’s almost entirely protected by National Park. Activities include dolphin-watching, swimming, trekking and camping beneath the night sky. See visitmoretonisland南京夜网

CITY: PERTH

SIDE TRIP: YANCHEP NATIONAL PARK

Less than 50 kilometres north of the city, Yanchep is known for its koala colonies and wildlife, expansive cave systems (there are more than 400) and Aboriginal cultural heritage. See dpaw.wa.gov.au

CITY: ADELAIDE

SIDE TRIP: PORT LINCOLN 

About an hour’s flight away, Port Lincoln is the place to go cage-shark diving, swimming with sea lions or bluefin tuna or charter a deep-sea fishing boat. It’s also the seafood capital of Australia.  See southaustralia南京夜网

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Kevin Rudd warns of the emergence of a new stolen generation

21/09/2019

Kevin Rudd, pictured at a school in the East Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala in 2008, has warned of new “stolen generation”. Photo: Glenn Campbell GMC
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Kevin Rudd, pictured at a school in the East Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala in 2008, has warned of new “stolen generation”. Photo: Glenn Campbell GMC

Kevin Rudd, pictured at a school in the East Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala in 2008, has warned of new “stolen generation”. Photo: Glenn Campbell GMC

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has warned of a new type of “stolen generation”, highlighting the growing number of Indigenous children being removed from their families because efforts to tackle disadvantage under the Closing the Gap initiative are flailing.

Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generations as prime minister seven years ago in Labor’s first Parliamentary act after its 2007 landslide victory. At an anniversary breakfast in Sydney on Friday, the former Labor leader said he delivered the apology not for a “fleeting feel-good moment” but in an effort to unite the nation in closing the gap of Indigenous disadvantage.

But he said an “explosion” in Indigenous incarceration rates and a 400 per cent increase in the number of children being removed from their home noted in this year’s Closing the Gap report made for “sobering” reading.

“Australia is now facing an Indigenous incarceration epidemic,” Mr Rudd warned.

Indigenous Australians make up 2.3 per cent on the adult population but comprise 27 per cent of the prison population. Worryingly, the number of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in prison has risen 74 per cent since 2000.

“These are alarming developments. Indigenous women in particular are critical to the future strength of Indigenous families and communities,” he said.

The former prime minister also pointed to another “dramatic” and “disturbing” trend – the 400 per cent rise in the number of Indigenous children being removed from their families since 1998. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up 5 per cent of the national child population but one third of all children placed in out-of-home care are Indigenous.

In 2008 5000 Indigenous children were removed from their homes. In 2013 this statistic ballooned to 13,900.

“I worry where this heads over time,” Mr Rudd said.

“An increasing number of Indigenous leaders are beginning to speak with growing urgency of a new, emerging, stolen generation,” the former prime minister added.

But he said the warning was not a criticism of those providing care but about the failure to keep children safe with their own families. The Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary on Indigenous Affairs, Alan Tudge, told reporters the matter was largely a state and not federal issue.

“In terms of child removal policies, they’re very much governed by state and territory governments rather than the federal government,” he said.

“It’s one of those things where if you’ve got strong, stable families with kids going to school, with adults working, then typically other things tend to take care of themselves,” he said in Sydney.

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Protest at Christopher Pyne Sydney speech turns violent as students pepper sprayed

21/09/2019

Students trying to enter the Sydney Masonic Centre where Christopher Pyne is speaking say they were pepper sprayed. Photo: Rebecca Barrett via Twitter
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Students trying to enter the Sydney Masonic Centre where Christopher Pyne is speaking say they were pepper sprayed. Photo: Rebecca Barrett via Twitter

Students trying to enter the Sydney Masonic Centre where Christopher Pyne is speaking say they were pepper sprayed. Photo: Rebecca Barrett via Twitter

Students trying to enter the Sydney Masonic Centre where Christopher Pyne is speaking say they were pepper sprayed. Photo: Rebecca Barrett via Twitter

University student Anna Amelia (centre) who was pepper sprayed by police when protesters stormed the Sydney Masonic Centre, where Education Minister Christopher Pyne was giving a speech. Photo: Kate Geraghty

University student Bridget Holly (left) is comforted by a man after being pepper sprayed by police. Photo: Kate Geraghty

University students storm the Sydney Masonic Centre on Goulburn Street, where Education Minister Christopher Pyne was giving a speech. Photo: Kate Geraghty

A protest by university students opposing the federal government’s education reforms has turned violent.

Police used pepper spray to deter about 40 students who were trying to enter a lecture by Education Minister Christopher Pyne in Sydney’s CBD on Friday morning.

The air of the centre’s foyer was thick with pepper spray, as some of the students sat crying in the gutter, while being comforted by fellow demonstrators.

The protest, at the first annual Hedley lecture at an education conference at the Sydney Masonic Centre in Goulburn Street, suddenly erupted and police acted to keep the students from storming the building.

The protest had up to then been peaceful.

Chants rang out such as, “Chris Pyne f— you, we deserve a future too.”

All of a sudden the situation erupted as the students tried to force their way inside the building.

“Every time I open my eyes it stings a bit,” said Eliza Buckley, a student at the protest.

“Christopher Pyne is a despicable human being for creating that class divide where only the wealthy can afford a university education,” she said.

“It demonstrates the lengths the NSW Police will go to to defend the Education Minister Christopher Pyne from the people he rules over,” said Ridah Hassan, education officer of the nation union of students, her face covered in a milk like substance to ease the burning of the police spray.

“It was a peaceful protest to protest at the government’s  deregulation agenda and we were pepper sprayed when making that point,”, she said.

“We are determined to keep protesting,” she said, as the protesters packed up saying, “I think we’ve had enough for one day.” Students trying to enter the Sydney Masonic centre where Christopher Pyne is speaking say they were pepper sprayed pic.twitter南京夜网/Me0ey0C6cc — Rebecca Barrett (@becjbarr) February 13, 2015This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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World’s most romantic cities: But are they sexy?

21/08/2019

Anita Ekberg wading through the Trevi Fountain in La Dolce Vita.There are a few candidates for “Saint Valentine” and no really compelling argument for why we celebrate him on February 14, but this morning we are waking up to another Valentine’s Day and some of us have expectations of red roses, chocolate boxes, frilly knickers or any other of the suggested tokens of passion the Valentine’s Day industry promotes.
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I’m sorry for sounding cynical but I’m in favour of more spontaneous expressions of love and affection. I don’t see what’s romantic about going out to dinner on a night when every other couple does, or eating chocolates out of a heart-shaped box when a rectangular one will do. I’d be way more impressed if I were given a book of Pablo Neruda poetry, but the supermarkets don’t seem to sell those.

Anyway, the time-worn, universal clichés of love and romance set me thinking about those inevitable Valentine’s Day lists of cities named the world’s “most romantic” and whether they live up to their reputations. What makes a city romantic? Do we agree on some of them?

The top ten often goes like this: Venice, Paris, Prague, Florence, Rome, Vienna, Seville, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Marrakesh. Other cities considered world-class romantic include Amsterdam, Lisbon, Kyoto, Bruges, Monte Carlo, Savannah, Sydney, Verona. I don’t think any list like this is complete without Istanbul and Budapest.

It’s all a matter of what you think is romantic – the chocolate box idea of it, or the wild, windswept Wuthering Heights view.

The Oxford English Dictionary has many definitions of the word “romance”, including this:  “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life.” In other words, the atmospherics of a city like Venice make it romantic whether you’re with the love of your life in gondola gridlock under the Bridge of Sighs, or wandering its canals alone.

I find Venice, Paris and Prague melancholy. There’s a sadness and weariness under the beauty that makes them romantic, especially in the misty, moody greyness of their winters. You see, I’m a Wuthering Heights kind of gal.

Whenever I stroll through Paris’s Palais-Royale I feel the ghosts of the past walking with me. Yes, it’s completely fanciful of me, but the city’s turbulent history and its present always seem intertwined. It’s been the city of love since medieval courtly times, when “romance” as an ideal flourished.  But its reputation has literally weighed it down – modern-day “love locks”, affixed to its bridges by lovers, are threatening to collapse some of the structures into the Seine.

Then there are the cities like Barcelona that are romantic in a sexy rather than moody way, because of a liberal, youthful spirit. Sydney might be considered one of these, especially on warm summer nights at the Opera Bar by the harbour.

Buenos Aires is undoubtedly sexy. It’s snake-hipped tango dancers and the music of Carlos Gardel and the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges – and quite a few raffish bars with some very raffish patrons.

Rome is magnificent but it’s also sexy. For me, it’s Anita Ekberg (RIP) wading through the Trevi Fountain; Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on a Vespa. (The Trevi Fountain may be a disappointing boarded-up trickle these days but it’s still a place to hang if you have a thing for American backpackers in shorts eating gelati.)

Marrakesh is erotic – the fragrance of incense, the labyrinthine souk in the medina populated by mysterious men robed in hoods, the inherent sensuality of its culture.  So is Seville, with its iron balconies, orange trees and passion of the bullfight. (Not so romantic for the bulls, however.)

I suppose Monte Carlo can attribute its romantic reputation to Princess Grace Kelly, although it seems romance was really far from the truth. And I’ve never found Vienna, lovely as it is, sexy or romantic. I can’t help associating it with Andre Rieu conducting Strauss waltzes, even though he’s Dutch, not Viennese – but I concede some may find this a definite turn-on.

I suppose there’s a parallel Not Sexy city list, which might include cities like Johannesburg, Toronto, and Seoul. I’ve never heard anyone call them romantic. But I imagine, if the stars aligned, you could have a lovely romance in Toronto.

I’m not as much a cynic as I make out – I admit to once strolling down the Champs Élysées singing Maurice Chevalier songs. But, like most things, what is romantic is a matter of taste.

Wishing you red roses and chocolates anyway.

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Airline review: Air India Dreamliner 787 economy class

21/08/2019

The Dreamliner’s quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a pleasant flight. Photo: Alan Marts The Dreamliner’s quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a pleasant flight. Photo: Alan Marts
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The Dreamliner’s quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a pleasant flight. Photo: Alan Marts

The Dreamliner’s quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a pleasant flight. Photo: Alan Marts

THE ROUTE

Delhi to Sydney. THE PLANE

Boeing 787 Dreamliner 800 series. Air India uses the Dreamliner exclusively on this route and has 16 in total in its fleet. The plane is configured with 18 business class seats and 238 economy. THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Flying Returns. Passengers can also earn points towards other Star Alliance airlines’ programs.  CLASS 

Economy class, seat 36C. DURATION 

Twelve hours.  FREQUENCY

Flights are daily, but operate on a round-robin system, alternating between Delhi to Sydney via Melbourne and Delhi to Melbourne via Sydney. THE SEAT 

Seats are in a 3-3-3 layout and feature spacious storage nets and headrests with adjustable wings (so you have something to rest your head on while sleeping). The red and orange colour scheme is on the busy side, but the recline is good and there is plenty of leg room. A small pillow and blanket is supplied. Seat pitch is 84 centimetres. Seat width43 centimetres.  BAGGAGE

Checked luggage allowance is 30 kilograms (which can be split over two bags) plus one carry-on bag up to eight kilograms and a laptop or handbag. COMFORT 

Air India uses the Dreamliner exclusively on this route and its quieter cabin and larger windows with adjustable tinting make for a much more pleasant flying experience. The superior air-purification system claims to reduce the effects of jet lag and dehydration and I disembark feeling fresher than normal after an overnight flight.   ENTERTAINMENT

Entertainment is via a responsive 26.5-centimetre touch-sensitive seatback screen. Content is clearly aimed at an Indian audience with a large selection of movies in Hindi. The range in English is limited with only 11 new releases and 24 older Hollywood titles. The TV selection is similarly sparse: a few comedies, some city guides, a talk show and – to the great consternation of the Indian man sitting next to me – no cricket (or sport of any kind). More entertaining is the inflight magazine, Shubh Yatra, with its advertisements for missile manufacturers, constipation cures and luxury light switches. SERVICE

Air India’s computer system in Delhi is down so check-in has to be done manually, and a 90-minute delay to departure. Apparently, this isn’t a common occurrence but communication is sparse and check-in staff struggle to manage the ensuing chaos. On board, things are better – the elegantly dressed crew are efficient and courteous.  FOOD 

There are three options for lunch: two Indian dishes (chicken with rice and vegetables, and mixed vegetable with rice and dahl) and an “international” dish of rice and lamb. The Indian dishes are better than the international one (although still only “average”, according to my neighbour). Bizarrely, a supper is served eight hours into the flight (roughly 2.30am Sydney time) rather than a breakfast before arrival. This time, there’s a choice of chicken or vegetable biryani, both of which are tasty and come with a traditional Indian dessert. Drinks-wise, there’s a good selection of spirits plus a French white and a surprisingly drinkable Indian red. THE VERDICT

Although Air India is no match for the top-tier airlines in terms of food and entertainment, it’s the only carrier to fly direct between Australia and India. That convenience coupled with the superior Dreamliner flying experience makes it a compelling proposition. Air India also has direct flights from Delhi to Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Milan, London and Birmingham.

Tested by Rob McFarland, who flew courtesy of Air India.

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Bali nine’s Myuran Sukumaran paints the island of his execution

21/08/2019

Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan jail. Photo: Jason Childs Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan jail. Photo: Jason Childs
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Ben Quilty with Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan in 2013. Photo: Jason Childs

Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan jail. Photo: Jason Childs

Myuran Sukumaran in Kerobokan jail. Photo: Jason Childs

Nusakambangan, Indonesia. Photo: Syubhan Akib

Bali: Myuran Sukumaran is painting his final destination: the penal island of Nusakambangan, where he will be shot dead.

The condemned man can no longer sleep as he braces for the knock at his prison cell that means his transferral is underway to the island dubbed “Indonesia’s Alcatraz”.

But he is still painting – a self -portrait of himself transposed onto Nusakambangan.

“Someone has given him an image of the location and he is making a big self-portrait with a very stormy sky,” said artist Ben Quilty who visited him on Thursday.

The order for the transfer to Nusakambangan was made by Indonesian authorities on Wednesday, although a date is yet to be set. Logistics for the transfer – and a possible date – will be decided at a meeting on Friday.

The men will be given 72 hours notice before they are shot dead.

But Sukumaran and fellow Bali nine member on death row Andrew Chan are spooked: it is obvious final preparations are underway.

“There have been preparations made so they can be taken in the night,”  Quilty said. “The night before they searched his room – I think they were preparing to move him. That night  he really couldn’t sleep.”

Before the harrowing news of the transfer, Chan and Sukumaran and their families had had a good day. They were buoyed by the messages of support from Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and shadow minister Tanya Plibersek in Parliament, and the letter signed by almost 100 MPs calling on the Indonesian government to save their lives.

“The guys were feeling really supported for the first time. I keep telling them how much support they have but that’s when it really hit them how much support they have,” Quilty said.

Sukumaran spent Thursday painting the self-portrait part of his Nusakambangan painting in front of a mirror with Quilty, his family and former lawyer Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry.

Thursday was the first time Sukumaran would allow Quilty to say goodbye. When the men are given their final 72 hours notice, only family members and a religious figure will be allowed to see them.

“That’s the first time I properly said goodbye,”  Quilty said. “In the past he wanted me to stay strong. He was very direct about not saying goodbye but yesterday he said goodbye.”

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Guided tour Guilin, China: Natural beauty mingles with the bizarre

21/08/2019

A man fishes with cormorants on a river. Photo: 123rf南京夜网 A man fishes with cormorants on a river. Photo: 123rf南京夜网
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A man fishes with cormorants on a river. Photo: 123rf南京夜网

A man fishes with cormorants on a river. Photo: 123rf南京夜网

Bamboo rafts on a river near Guilin. Photo: 123rf南京夜网

Reed Flute Cave. Photo: 123rf南京夜网

The half-naked woman in the steaming hot tub is singing opera. I’m watching her through the windows of her little wooden pagoda, and feeling like a bit of a creep. The feeling quickly fades, however, as I remind myself where I am. I’m on the Two Rivers and Four Lakes night cruise in Guilin in south-east China. For the past 20 minutes I’ve been bobbing past majestic mountains, pagodas and bridges lit by neon lights, while watching a handful of rather bizarre music and dance acts being performed on the shore.

It’s only my first night in Guilin, yet I’m already starting to realise that this is precisely what makes the destination so unique – this peculiar mix of stunning natural beauty, and slightly psychedelic strangeness. Our boat putters round the bend and we find, in another pagoda, a punky girl band playing transparent mandolins and flutes while performing a traditional dance.

Another few hundred metres and we find a small group of bamboo rafts, lit by green lights and manned by pyjama-clad gents with cormorants by their sides. The men are chanting and bobbing up and down and, just as I start to wonder if this is some kind of Chinese river rave, the birds dive into the water and return a few moments later, triumphantly clasping fish in their beaks.

This, our local guide Maggie tells us, is a 1300-year-old tradition that used to earn the fishermen a living. Due to competition from modern fishing techniques, however, it’s now practised mostly to entertain tourists.

“The birds are trained since birth to catch fish for their master,” she says. “There’s a small noose around their neck to stop them swallowing fish they catch.” The fishermen’s chanting and dancing, she adds, is all just encouragement for the birds to take the plunge.

The otherworldly experiences continue the next morning, when for a moment I think I’ve stumbled into Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Soaring forest-clad mountains jut up around the city like crooked teeth, which are endlessly flossed by the two rivers and four lakes that flow between them.

The best way to get the lay of these mountains is to climb one of them. We start with Solitary Beauty Peak, the original centre of Guilin in the Princes’ City Scenic Area. Our thighs burn like the fires of hell as we ascend the 300 stone steps, but it’s worth every painful second. From the top, it’s nothing but hulking limestone mountains, strips of glossy green river, a smattering of low buildings, and distant hills so blurred and blue that for a second I think they’re clouds.

This is the stuff that has inspired Chinese artists and poets for centuries. And, as Maggie tells us at least half a dozen times over the next few days, the stuff that stirred an astute Chinese governor 800 years ago to famously announce, “Guilin’s scenery is the best under heaven.”

As we continue our explorations, I start to think it might be. There are the magical views from another craggy peak, Folded Brocade Hill, made even sweeter by the marble slide carved into the side to get us back down. There’s the curiously shaped Elephant Trunk Hill, the symbol of Guilin that looks like – you guessed it – an elephant dipping its trunk in the water. And, when the day becomes unbearably hot, there are the subterranean delights.

Because Guilin is founded on porous limestone rock, more than 3000 underground caverns are concealed beneath the city. This is also why there’s a lack of tall buildings in the city; the ground isn’t solid enough to support them.

Reed Flute Cave has been around for more than 180 million years, and wall inscriptions near its mouth tell us tourists began visiting way back in the seventh century. We enter, the temperature drops 10 degrees, and things start to get a little weird again. Stalactites and stalagmites lit by multicoloured lights reach from the floor and ceiling, creating lumpy sculptures that look like wet sandcastles. Maggie points out signposted descriptions like “centipede scared by the magic mirror” that leave us wondering whether the writers were indulging in something a little stronger than rice wine when they penned them. In the cave’s belly is the Crystal Palace of the Dragon King, a cavernous grotto that once served as an air-raid shelter during World War II, and is now an occasional events space. A short animated film depicting how the caves were formed is projected onto the ceiling, while two life-sized holograms dance to classical music to our right. The beautiful and the bizarre, merging once again.

The next day we rise early to take the 2½-hour cruise to Yangshuo along the Li River. It’s hot, but we brave the morning sun to stand on the upper deck and watch hundreds of karst peaks slip by like sleeping giants, their inverted reflections shimmering on the water. It’s the ideal way to observe life along the river. Children flap about in the shallows. Bamboo rafts covered with sun shields ferry tourists about. Fishermen cast out their nets. Farmers tend small squares of farmland.

We disembark in Yangshuo and find ourselves in the middle of a buzzing local market, selling everything from antique teapots and jewelry to oversized fans painted with Chinese landscapes. From here, the town spans out into a series of laneways lined with small shops and teahouses, and restaurants and bars that thrum with live music at night.

We’ll have to save those for later though. Right now we’re off to see Yangshuo’s famous Impression Sanjie Liu night show. It’s performed on the Li River with the hills as its backdrop, creating what might be the world’s most gorgeous natural theatre.

We can’t understand a word of the show (it’s all in Mandarin) that apparently tells the tale of the minority groups living in the area. But it doesn’t matter in the slightest. More than 600 performers, including 400 local fishermen and 200 professional dancers perform an extravaganza that fuses folk music and dancing, spectacular costumes and bright lights (of course), all choreographed by Zhang Yimou, the guy who directed the Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

Our second day in Yangshuo begins with sunrise tai chi in our hotel’s garden with Master Huang, who began learning the martial art at just 12 years old. He teaches us a series of graceful movements that we vow we’ll continue practising once we get home, as well as some simple philosophies based around letting go and staying calm.

In the afternoon we grab pushbikes from our hotel and cycle to Moon Hill (no prizes for guessing what this one resembles), then escape the sweltering heat at the Gold Water caves on the way back. Another fairyland of brightly lit stalactites and stalagmites, but with the added bonus of ice-cold mud baths. We float around in the gooey sludge, giggling like kids at the feeling of it squishing around our bodies, before washing off and plunging into the hot springs.

The alarm is set early the following morning since we’re on the road again. A two-hour coach ride sees us in Longji, in the heart of the great rice bowl of China. Rain sifts down as we step off the bus, but that doesn’t stop us from immediately clicking away at the striking rice terraces that cling to the steep hillsides all around us.

The Chinese have been cultivating rice here for at least eight centuries, and it has transformed the landscape. We hike along the thin strips of hand-carved terraces that twist towards our destination, Ping’an village. Along the way we pass timber houses built into the hills, and meet women from the Zhuang, Miao and Yao minority groups, the three largest minority groups living in this region. The Yao women dress in hot pink embroidered jackets and cut their floor-length hair, which they twist on top of their heads, only once in their lives between the ages of 16 and 18.

Once we reach Ping’an, I have just enough energy left to haul myself up one final hill to watch the sunset. At least that’s what I plan to do, before I get distracted by bargaining with Yao stallholders to buy my very own handloom jacket.

We spend the evening dining on the local speciality of smoky rice cooked over an open fire in bamboo tubes, sleep in a traditional stilted wooden guesthouse, and rise early to watch the morning sun spill over this mosaic of kaleidoscopic greens. One final moment of stunning natural beauty, with just enough psychedelic strangeness thrown in.  FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO IN GUILIN AND YANGSHUO

1. Cloud 9 Cooking School, Yangshuo The experience here begins with a guided tour through a market, where you’re taught about the ingredients to be used during your cooking class. You’ll make spicy pork dumplings, beer fish (a delectable specialty of the region) and more. See facebook南京夜网/cloud9cookingschoolyangshuo.

2. Kayaking on the Li River, Yangshuo Watch life on the Li River pass you by as you kayak its smooth waters. Two or three-hour trips available, through wendywutours南京夜网.au.

3. Tea Science and Research Institute, Guilin The institute has been around since 1965 and was the royal tea garden during the Ming Dynasty, 400 years ago. Take a tour through their organic tea plantation, before experiencing a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. See guilintea南京夜网.

4. Tour Jingjiang Princes’ City, Guilin Covering almost 20 hectares, it encompasses Jingjiang Palace and Solitary Beauty Peak. Originally built in 1372 under the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, the palace includes temples, pavilions, terraces and halls. It now also functions as the Guangxi Normal University. Donghua Rd, Xiufeng, Guilin; call +86 773 280 3149.

5.  Rock climbing, Yangshuo If simply hiking up those beautiful limestone towers just doesn’t cut it for you, this is an option for the adventurous. There are routes for both beginners and pros, and climbing is best from late September to December, when it’s not too hot and the rainfall is low. Available through wendywutours南京夜网.au.  TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

visitguilin.orgGETTING THERE

Cathay Pacific flies four times a day from Sydney and three times a day from Melbourne to Hong Kong, then connects to daily flights to Guilin with its regional airline Dragonair. From $991 per person return. See cathaypacific南京夜网.au. STAYING THERE

Shangri-La Guilin has 449 rooms and suites from about RMB 695 ($130) a night. See shangri-la南京夜网/guilin.

Yangshuo Resort, set among the limestone hills on the banks of the river, has rooms and suites from about RMB 980 ($185) a night. See yangshuoresorthotel南京夜网. EATING THERE

Wei Xiang Guan (Taste Fragrance Restaurant in English) in Guilin is a specialty rice noodle restaurant that’s been serving up the region’s famous rice noodles since 1947. They’re still doing a damn good job of it, too. In Zongshan Middle Road and Yiren Road.

Yangshuo’s Pure Lotus vegetarian restaurant is crammed with gorgeous antiques, has iPad menus, and the chefs work wonders with tofu and eggplant. See yangshuomagnolia南京夜网/purelotus. TOURING THERE

Wendy Wu Tours has a Guilin, Yangshuo and Longji package from $650 per person twin share that includes four nights’ accommodation with daily breakfast, private touring with local guides, entrance fees and some meals. Call 1300 727 998 or see wendywutours南京夜网.au.

The writer travelled courtesy of Wendy Wu Tours.

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Valentine’s Day: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warns of online dating scams

22/07/2019

Dating and romance scams cost Australians a record $28 million last year, with hundreds of Victorians groomed and defrauded online.
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The consumer watchdog has warned the online dating community about scammers preying on vulnerable people, particularly at Valentines Day, after more than 1000 victims reported being swindled last year.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said $75,000 a day was lost to romance scams in 2014. There were more than 220 victims in Victoria, including 22 people ripped off more than $100,000 with total losses reaching $6.8 million.

Losses nationally to dating and romance-related fraud totalled $27.9 million, up from $25.3 million the previous year.

“We know these figures are only the tip of the iceberg as many victims are reluctant to admit to friends, family or authorities that they fell for a scam,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

Ms Rickard said the ACCC was working to contact suspected victims of romance fraud but that scammers were experts at preying on people’s weaknesses, spending months and even years grooming them online.

“Inevitably, the fraudster will spin a tall tale about why they suddenly need your financial help, ranging from medical emergencies to failed business ventures to needing to rebook flights to visit you,” she said. “Once victims realise that their admirer is actually a criminal, the emotional consequences can be devastating.”

The ACCC on Friday released the findings of its probe into major dating websites, carried out last year. It found that while two-thirds of the websites displayed scam warning messages only 23 per cent met the industry best practice. The ACCC also said contracts should be easier to cancel and that there should be better disclosure of fees across the industry.

SCAMwatch tips:

Never provide your financial details or send funds to someone you’ve met online

Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided as scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online

Be wary if you are moved off a dating website as scammers prefer to correspond through private emails or the phone to avoid detection

Don’t share photos or webcam of a private nature. The ACCC has received reports of scammers using this material to blackmail victims.

If you think you have fallen victim to a fraudster, contact your bank or financial institution immediately and report it to www.scamwatch.gov.au

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

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