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Mushroom foraging proves a peaceful pursuit

Down to the woods we go, with a sharp knife and sensible shoes. Wind howls through the pines. From the undergrowth I pluck a teeny candy-red mushroom that could be a dancing fairy’s house, or its studio apartment. ”You little shit,” says Janina Knight. ”You will end up in hospital.” There are many mushrooms on the forest floor but only two types fit for eating. As in life, the prettiest creatures are the most deadly.
Nanjing Night Net

”If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it,” says Knight, 67, smiling. She stoops to slice the stem of a slimy brown mushroom, hiding amid fallen pine needles in state forest outside Oberon, three hours over the mountains from Sydney. ”I like the smell,” she says, ”it’s beautiful and earthy – fresh even though it’s not.”

Her small basket, made from the roots of old pine trees, is filling with funny-named fungi: saffron milk caps (lactarius deliciosus) and slippery jacks (snail snotiosus). ”Some people come out here with buckets and garbage bins to fill. You would swear it’s the end of the world and it’s going to feed the multitudes,” she says. ”I only get enough for a couple of feeds.”

Wild pine mushrooms revel in that sombre space around autumn, when days cool and thunderstorms rage. We forage in the forest shadows, to the rich waft of damp soil and the beat of birds and cattle trucks bellowing. ‘You can’t go into a supermarket to find these mushrooms,” says Knight, dressed in a purple vest, brown slacks and slip-ons. ”It’s a serene place. No phone reception, no computers – freedom. You can come and think and get lost.”

And so I think about mushrooms: why are so many poisonous? How many might I eat? Why is that one as big as a child’s head?

The Australian Mushroom Growers’ Association reckons annual mushroom consumption has grown fivefold since the late 1970s, from 600 grams a head to 3.2 kilograms (the world record is four kilograms of fried mushrooms eaten in eight minutes by Molly Schuyler, a mother of four from Omaha, in 2013).

The association says 93 per cent of mushroom purchasers believe they are healthy for them. The less said about the other 7 per cent the better. ”They are edible fungi but we don’t call them that because people think about thrush and athlete’s foot,” says association general manager Greg Seymour. ”So we call it the ‘Mushroom Kingdom’.”

Foraging in the Mushroom Kingdom is not encouraged by the association, for fear people might pick something poisonous. ”You really have to know what you are doing,” Seymour says.

Even then, hazards abound. ”If you eat slippery jacks and don’t take the skins off that can cause a bit of upset for people with a sensitive tummy,” Seymour says. That would explain my flatulence, I say. ”I have no evidence for that,” Seymour says.

An information sheet in the Oberon Visitor Centre warns against picking anything with white caps, white stems or white dots. So when we enter the forest Knight steers me towards the rust-coloured saffron milk caps, which cry orange tears when broken open.

Her mother taught her to forage for mushrooms around old pine trees as a child. She used the shiny red ones as cheap insect spray. ”They would wrap rags around their hands and put them in a bowl and the pungent smell would kill flies,” she says. ”Mortein works for me.”

Beyond the old pine trees and blackberry bushes are rolling green hills and MDF factories. But deep in the forest is sombre and still. Rain has washed the wild mushrooms until they glisten.

Later, Knight will wash and cut and cook today’s haul, with onion and truffle butter and parsley picked from her garden. But now she sits on a rotting tree stump in the forest, by a clump of tiny white mushrooms painted with dew drops, and starts to cry. ”It’s very emotional,” she says. ”When I come out here I like to leave no footprints. I don’t like showing this off a lot. It’s my own thing. I come out here and just let it all go.”

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ANZAC: Punters let pennies fly with two-up

TOUCH: Glen ‘Tangles’ Thackeray tossing the two-up coins during the traditional Anzac Day celebrations. BET: Amy Merchant’s two-up toss pleases the crowd at Paterson Tavern as the pennies fall. Picture: Peter Stoop
Nanjing Night Net

IT’S only a small country pub, but the roar that emanated from the Paterson Tavern as the two-up coins were tossed into the air rivalled the traditional Anzac Day clash between the Roosters and Dragons.

Well not quite, but it drowned out the sound of the TV screening the game.

A few hundred locals packed into the pub for a barbecue breakfast, a few beers and a game of two-up yesterday to remember those who fought and died in all wars, conflicts and peace-keeping operations.

‘‘A lot of money changes hands on Anzac Day, but it’s all in good fun,’’ Paterson Tavern owner Nicole Eslick said last night.

‘‘We opened at 5.30am and served a barbecue to the Gresford RSL sub-branch.

‘‘We’ve been working since then, but it’s more than worth it, it’s a big day of the year but the locals are always good and we never have any trouble.’’

The scene outside the Prince Street pub, well-known for its Anzac Day celebrations, was not dissimilar to dozens of other RSLs or hotels in the Hunter.

In Cooks Hill, The Cricketers Arms and Oriental Hotel were popular spots for punters looking to double their cash on the hope of a head or tail.

Liam Potter, Kent Hatchwell and Mitchell Frost pooled their money to try their luck, but like many, came off second best.

‘‘We put $50 in together and finished with $30, so we lost $20 but it was probably one of the best we’ve ever done,’’ Mr Potter said.

Police in Maitland said as of 7pm, when the majority of pubs shut, there had been no major incidents.

‘‘Two-up was relatively incident free and our response to any issues at licensed premises has been well received,’’ a Central Hunter police spokesman said.

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ANZAC: Nelson Baypays tribute for war efforts, photos

FLOWERS FOR FALLEN: Wreaths and bouquets laid at the base of the Apex Park cenotaph are soaked by the rain in Nelson Bay as the ceremony is moved indoors. Pictures: Marina Neil Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil
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Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Newcastle Police Citizens Youth Club Brass Band bugler Angelina Gordon plays a sombre tune. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

NELSON Bay’s rain-affected Anzac Day service was all about remembering unsung heroes.

In a truncated ceremony brought in out of the wet to the confines of the Nelson Bay Bowling Club, Williamtown-based Wing Commander Lee de Winton thanked the hundreds packed into the service for paying their respects on a day that has ‘‘surpassed its physical meaning’’.

Wing Commander de Winton, who spent six months in Afghanistan last year, said that to her, the day represented the ‘‘courage, sacrifice and self-reliance’’ shown by participants in all conflicts.

She also told the crowd she wanted to bring their attention to the contributions of the ‘‘fairer sex’’, citing the roles played by women from Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale to Nancy Wake and the women who serve in conflicts today.

‘‘When we speak of veterans, we usually think of brave men wearing their medals [but] women have also played key roles, not just on the home front, for centuries,’’ she said.

She also paid tribute to ‘‘unsung heroes’’ such as the journalists who covered wars, and the chaplains, nurses and surgeons who looked after those doing the fighting.

The day started in worrying fashion when the Nelson Bay

sub-branch vice-president, Norm Cason, collapsed during the dawn service.

Mr Cason, who had been slated to make the opening address at the main service, was treated by paramedics on the scene and went home to rest.

He later made enough of a recovery to return to Nelson Bay Diggers RSL where he delivered a speech at the veterans lunch.

The RSL sub-branch secretary Tony Minchin said he was doing ‘‘all right’’.

‘‘He’s not able to get up and down and dance about, but he’s doing toasts,’’ he said.

Mr Minchin led yesterday’s truncated service, and despite the weather preventing them holding the main service at the new cenotaph, he said he was happy with the event.

‘‘It was smaller and shorter, but everything else went according to plan,’’ he said.

‘‘You’ve got to consider not only the weather, but the safety aspect as well.’’

He said about 1500 turned out to the dawn service, despite the weather.

Williamtown RAAF Base 76 Squadron performed the Bay’s catafalque party.

Marches were cancelled across Port Stephens, with Tilligerry and Raymond Terrace also forced to hold services indoors.

In Raymond Terrace, marchers retreated under the cover of the bowling club’s sprawling green, which sub-branch secretary Bill Garrett called a ‘‘good spot’’ – ‘‘still outside, but out of that rain’’.

He said it was disappointing not to be able to hold the marches.

‘‘It definitely is; there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it and I think the populace expects to see it as well,’’ he said.

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Papalii in Roos frame

Raiders’ enforcer Josh Papalii is in contention for a starting spot in the Kangaroos pack for next week’s Test against New Zealand, as Broncos star Sam Thaiday remains in doubt with a calf injury.
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Papalii will have a last chance to impress national coach Tim Sheens and the selectors when the Raiders take on the Manly Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval on Sunday. Thaiday won’t have the same opportunity after the incumbent starting second-rower was ruled out of the Anzac Day clash with South Sydney.

Papalii is yet to play a midyear Test, but will be a strong chance after he stormed into the Kangaroos on the way to Australia winning the World Cup at the end of last season.

Sheens wouldn’t be drawn on whether Papalii would be selected, but said he would be among those mentioned to fill the starting spot if Thaiday was ruled out.

”If Josh’s form is up to scratch, he’s certainly being considered, it’s just a matter of his game time at club level,” Sheens said.

”Sam Thaiday’s in some sort of doubt, so that could open up not just a bench spot, but also a starting spot for not just Josh but other back-rowers.

”We’ll see what happens with Sam at the end of the week.”

Sheens said Papalii possessed a ”pretty good all-round game” and had shown himself to be more than capable of stepping up to Origin and international level.

”He’s got the running game you need as a back-rower these days on the edge, to worry the living daylights out of a seven or a six defending their own line and you’ve got to be able to take good yardage out of your own half,” Sheens said.

”You’ve got to read the defence as well and you’ve got to be able to make tackles on quicker backs and make good decisions.

”He’s got good skills with the ball and he showed that throughout the World Cup.”

Papalii came to the attention of Sheens after a recommendation from Kangaroos assistant coach and Papalii’s former mentor at the Raiders, David Furner.

A strong performance for the Prime Minister’s XI against PNG booked Papalii’s spot in the World Cup squad. He made the most of his chances in the pool games to be a bolter for the final.

The 21-year-old missed three games for the Raiders this year with an ankle injury, but has played the past two, including last Sunday’s 24-22 win against the Melbourne Storm.

“His form’s been pretty solid. He’s a big boy and needs game time,” Sheens said.

”We pick the team on Sunday, so we’re having a good look at the last round.

”The thing with all the boys that played last year is that they’ve got plenty of points with me, but they’ve still got to be playing reasonably good football.”

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Rabbits: Why you should try this at home

Numbers game: how crowds compare at big stadiums and suburban grounds.Part two: Home truths: why playing at big venues pays off for Sydney clubsEels, Wanderers unveil $120m plan to upgrade Pirtek Stadium
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The gamble South Sydney took almost a decade ago when they packed up and moved their games from their spiritual heartland to western Sydney has not only paid off, but paved the way for rugby league to enter into a new era.

Clubs are aiming higher, dreaming bigger and breaking records that only a few seasons ago never seemed imaginable.

What the Rabbitohs have done, and the Bulldogs to a certain extent, have forced those Sydney clubs still hanging on to the roots of yesteryear to venture into uncharted territory.

Fairfax Media has spoken to all Sydney clubs to reveal the expenditure and revenue comparisons between suburban grounds and the larger venues.

Suburban grounds aren’t dead – just have a look at the crowd that piled into Leichhardt in the pouring rain earlier this month. But, as Dragons chief executive Peter Doust put it, “we needed to change or we would be left behind”.

In a few years time rugby league club bosses hope the crowds that piled into ANZ Stadium on Good Friday and Easter Monday would no longer be considered one-offs but the norm.

Could you imagine if the Eels had played their game against the Tigers at Pirtek Stadium? There would be 30,000 fans disenfranchised. Rugby league cannot afford to be turning fans away. And no matter how wonderful and atmospheric Leichhardt and Kogarah are, the reality is that the club’s visions are outgrowing these iconic venues.

There was an outcry from Tigers fans in Campbelltown after attracting just over 6000 for the game against the Cowboys a fortnight ago. They want the club to play against the higher-profile teams, but the reality is the future of suburban grounds will involve out-of-town teams.

“I think there’s always a role to play for suburban grounds,” Tigers chief executive Grant Mayer said. “The complex part of it is making a decision on right game, right venue, right time, can only happen when the draw is released. No suburban ground could have hosted Easter Monday with the Eels and Wests Tigers. That speaks volumes of what will happen in the future.

“It just may mean that in the main, suburban venues will see out of town teams or the lower drawing Sydney teams on a regular basis. We’ve tried over the last two years to share the split across Campbelltown and Leichhardt.”

Reciprocal membership rights are adding further value to membership packages and increasing crowd attendances.

When the Dragons play the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium, around 36,000 members combined have access to the match, but if that was at WIN Jubilee Oval almost half of those would be stranded outside of the gates.

The Tigers, Eels and Dragons are offered guarantees in excess of $125,000 to play at ANZ Stadium, with the stadium hopeful of helping build crowd attendances so that eventually they will be able to sustain themselves and operate like the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs.

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

ANZ Stadium

Capacity: 82,000

Expenditure

ANZ Stadium: Fee paid based on per ticket sold.

Revenue

Merchandise: $70,000 average per game. (When they left the Sydney Football Stadium, the Rabbitohs didn’t have the rights to merchandise sales on game day. They now are the most profitable sporting club in Australia in merchandise.)

Corporates: $120,000 per game (Up to 1000 people with an average of 600)

Tickets: $200,000 per game (In 2005, their final year at Allianz Stadium, the Rabbitohs’ gate share net profit for the entire season was $36,000)

Signage: $65,000 per game (South Sydney have $7.5 million worth of sponsorship for 2014).

Profit: $440,000

In South Sydney’s final year at the Sydney Football Stadium back in 2005, the net profit for ticket sales was $36,000 for the entire season. Chief executive Shane Richardson then took a massive gamble and moved games to ANZ Stadium for a guarantee in excess of $100,000 per game. However crowds have grown since moving to Olympic Park and last year the club ceased their guarantee arrangement with ANZ for a new deal that entitles the club to 100 per cent of revenue. The Rabbitohs are now the benchmark for Sydney clubs. In 2013 the Rabbitohs net profit for ticket sales was $2 million. They have also increased their membership revenue from $365,000 in 2005 to a projected $4.5 million (32,000 members) in 2014. The club turned over $8.5 million in 2005 compared to an estimated $26 million they will turn over this year. By moving to ANZ Stadium, South Sydney have enjoyed a substantial growth in membership in western Sydney. They now have 58 per cent of their members living in the inner west and greater western Sydney. They also take games to Cairns, Perth and Gosford, with 1500 members in Western Australia, 3000 members in Queensland and 1500 members (more than any other NRL club) on the Central Coast. They are about to release a plan to increase turnover to $34 million and membership to 50,000 by 2018. It was reported in 2004 that the Rabbitohs needed a crowd of 9000 at Allianz Stadium just to break even.

SYDNEY ROOSTERS

Allianz Stadium

Capacity: 45,500

Operational costs: The Roosters are a tenant of Allianz Stadium and have an undisclosed deal with the SCG Trust which includes match day, training and administration building use rolled into one. The club has to play a minimum of 10 games at the venue each season until the end of 2019.

Ticket sales and average crowd: The Roosters get 100 per cent of the gate share. Every second season the club experiences greater ticket sales because they host the ANZAC Day game against the Dragons and the season opener against South Sydney in the same year. This year they will struggle to maintain last year’s average crowd of almost 20,000 (fourth in NRL). The Roosters averaged around 14,000 in 2012.

Corporate: The Roosters can host up to 1000 people. They also have to accommodate for SCG Trust members.

Merchandise: The Roosters don’t have any game day merchandise rights as part of their deal with Allianz Stadium. They get a small percentage of the gross.

Membership: 15,000 with a projected total of 17,500 by the end of the season. It has increased 50 per cent since 2012 (10,000). If the Roosters reach their target, membership will bring in $2 million to the club.

Signage: The Roosters only have access to LED signage that they can sell or give to sponsors. The rest of the stadium signage belongs to the Trust.

The Roosters have been at Allianz Stadium since it opened in 1988. They train and play at the precinct, while their administration are all in the same building adjacent to Allianz Stadium. The club prides itself on the strong culture that comes with having all the club’s staff and players in the same facility, which is a luxury most clubs don’t have. The club concedes the precinct is in dire need of an upgrade on both the infrastructure and technology fronts. There are only 2500 car spots, and while there is public transport, it isn’t as convenient as what the Trust have planned. There is a light rail proposal to be linked to the precinct for 2019, while a pedestrian bridge over Anzac Parade expected to be ready in time for the cricket World Cup in January will make access from Central station a lot easier. Outside of the Roosters, St George Illawarra are the only other team to sign a deal with the Trust, playing one game at Allianz Stadium and the Sydney Cricket Ground this year. The Roosters used to take a home game away from Allianz Stadium for financial reasons. They still have the option of moving two games per year, however the Roosters board has put a red pen through the initiative given they lost all 11 of their relocated games, the last a 50-12 thrashing at the hands of the Cowboys in 2012. The Roosters are more than happy with their arrangement with Allianz Stadium, but concede technological advances needed to be made to keep up with consumer demand. “It’s our spiritual and geographical home with our training, administration and game day all based out of the precinct,” a Roosters official said. “As the only full-time rugby league tenant, we want to continually work with the Trust to maximise crowds and enhance experience for our members and supporters. We want to see this stadium have the best technological facilities. There’s also the added advantage of being next door to the NRL offices, while also working with the Sydney Swans, Waratahs and Sydney FC.”

CRONULLA SHARKS

Remondis Stadium

Capacity: 22,000

Expenditure

Operational costs: $70,000 (Ticketing, security, police, big screen)

Maintenance/utilities: $48,000 (The Sharks own their ground, so they are responsible for the maintenance of the stadium)

Total: $118,000

Revenue

Merchandise: $17,000 per game

Corporates: $145,000 per game

Ticket sales: $93,000 per game

Signage: $40,000 per game

Catering: $10,000 per game

Total: $305,000 per game

The Sharks are the only club in Sydney to own their own ground. Their game day expenditure is far greater than any other team given they have to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the ground. The Sharks don’t have a major sponsor but still managed average crowds in excess of 13,000 the past two seasons. They have started 2014 with a home crowd average of 11,903 for their first four games.

MANLY SEA EAGLES

Brookvale Oval

Capacity: 23,000

Fairfax Media contacted the Sea Eagles but they declined to provide specific confidential details of their game day expenditure and revenue at Brookvale Oval. The club is in the process of a feasibility project in partnership with the NRL in relation to a proposal to build a new grandstand that will cover part of the eastern hill and will increase undercover seating capacity. There are only approximately 3000 undercover seats which includes all corporates at Brookvale Oval. The vision is to increase membership with a new grandstand and to potentially turn the venue into a multi-purpose facility that can be used for a range of sports and community events. In the past few years, the club has grown its membership from 7000 to almost 13,000 –  this year breaking the club’s record. The club is now restricted on the number of seated memberships it can sell, as membership is capped at approximately 13,000 for Brookvale Oval. The Sea Eagles have taken two games to the Central Coast this year which provided in excess of $350,000 in guarantees. The Sea Eagles fans haven’t traditionally embraced home matches at Allianz Stadium, however infrastructure restrictions, including no train line, have played a significant part in this.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 

WIN Stadium and Jubilee Oval

Expenditure

 

Operational costs: The Dragons have one of the highest venue cost structures in the NRL. It costs them more to use Kogarah than Wollongong, however their deal with WIN Stadium escalates by use of the precinct as their training base and football offices. The Dragons pay over $140,000 in rent and costs to Kogarah Council each year and individual game day costs are greater than most venues because of the inadequate infrastructure.

Revenue

 

Ticket sales: Kogarah sold out has a negative contribution and a sold out WIN Stadium has a minimal positive contribution.

Merchandise: Average of $35,000 at Kogarah and $25,000 at WIN Stadium in Wollongong.

Corporate: The capacity at Kogarah is 1564 while WIN Stadium has 1099.  The club has five categories of corporate tickets ranging from $80 per person to $250 per person.

Signage: The Dragons own all signage inventory at Jubilee Oval and split the signage with the WIN Stadium Trust in Wollongong.

Membership: For those who have ticketed memberships at the traditional surburban home venues the split is 60 per cent in Kogarah and 40 per cent in Wollongong. The Dragons have 18,050 ticketed and non-ticketed members to date that bring in more than $2 million to the club.

——————————————————————————————————–

ANZ Stadium, Allianz Stadium and Sydney Cricket Ground

 

Expenditure

 

Operational costs: Nil

Revenue

 

Stadiums: The Dragons get an undisclosed guarantee for their two games at ANZ Stadium in the short-term, moving to a ticket share over time. At Allianz Stadium, the Dragons have options for up front guarantees and/or ticket share. The Right Game Right Venue strategy will deliver more than $1 million each year due to an increase in revenue and decrease in costs. This strategy also includes opportunities for growth in all revenue streams, from moving these four games away from the suburban venues, with each game estimated to be worth $250,000 more than a game at Kogarah or Wollongong.

Ticket Sales: Anzac Day is worth $400,000 to the Dragons in ticket sales. They get nothing from ANZ Stadium for ticket sales because of their guarantees in the short term. The club shares the gate with South Sydney in the Heritage Round clash at the SCG and the return event at ANZ Stadium. The possibility of an extension of these principles exists for the future.

Merchandise: The Dragons have just signed a new deal with ISC Sports, their largest apparel partnership to date that is expected to increase merchandise sales, with a focus on street wear.

Signage: The signage arrangements at ANZ Stadium are similar to WIN Stadium, they are joint ventured with the venue.

The Dragons and NRL Right Game Right Venue strategy will mean that the club has five home grounds for the next four years just over 100km apart with the objective of developing more marquee events at the bigger venues, accessing new markets as well as maintaining balance with their traditional venues.

They play four games at Kogarah, four games at Wollongong, two games at ANZ Stadium and one game at both Allianz Stadium and the Sydney Cricket Ground. The financial return underpinning this strategy will enable the club to be sustained over the longer term and for them to be able to compete at the top end of the game, continue to invest in pathway development and community activities. The club has averaged a crowd of 14,164 at Kogarah since the start of the joint venture and 13,055 at Wollongong. They’ve also played a number of games at the larger venues, with an average of 19,981 at ANZ Stadium and 16,157 at Allianz Stadium.

At the suburban grounds, not every fan is entitled to a seat. At Kogarah there are 11,824 seats with 5670 under cover. At Wollongong there 14,591 seats with 9751 under cover.

The club had plans in place to build covered seating at the southern and northern end of Jubilee Oval, however the government funding policy means that money will be invested into keeping the larger stadiums up to date.

The Dragons are the fourth most popular team in western Sydney, a new market for the club, and while the Dragons have grown their membership and partnership numbers in the region, they’ve also been unable to retain some disgruntled fans who haven’t renewed their membership because of the decision to play less games at the suburban grounds. This was not unexpected but the club believes that their supporters want to see their team participate in the big marquee events and remain competitive with the biggest clubs in the NRL.

More than 1500 fans recently signed a petition to play more games at Kogarah.

In tomorrow’s Sun-Herald – how the western Sydney clubs are dealing with big decisions involving home grounds.

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ACCC calls for regulation of user-generated restaurant reviews

Pinch of salt: Warren Turnbull, chef at Chur Burger in Surry Hills. Photo: Steven SiewertNow that anyone with an internet connection can share their opinions with a wide audience, user review websites such as TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon and Eatability are becoming the new word of mouth, and increasingly influential. But businesses are complaining about false, inaccurate and malicious reviews and say the system is open to abuse.
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Some have struggled to remove negative comments from sacked staff, critiques posted by rivals, ”revenge reviews” written by troublesome customers and scathing reviews by hotel ”guests” who never stayed.

Concerned by the rise in paid-for and fake online reviews, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released guidelines for businesses and review platforms and made monitoring the sector a priority.

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper said three-quarters of Australians used review platforms when deciding where to eat out or stay on holiday and inauthentic reviews misled consumers.

”It’s time for the industry to bring its behaviour into line with ACCC expectations,” he said. ”We would like platforms to review what’s being posted up there, as well as trying to disclose as much as possible to consumers … [about] sponsored and paid links.”

When the Accommodation Association of Australia surveyed its members in 2012 about TripAdvisor almost 400 businesses responded and 28 per cent said they had a review posted by someone who never stayed at the property. Fifty-six per cent said malicious or vexatious reviews had been posted on their listing; the same number had been threatened with a negative review.

”They’d almost extort things like upgrades or free rooms with the threat of creating a bad review,” association chief executive Richard Munro said.

Review platforms should vet reviews and restrict authorship to those who had transacted with a business, he said. ”We’d hope the companies would do that of their own accord and if [not] … we’d be pushing for legislation to make that happen. The weakness in the current system is that anyone can get on and say anything they want.”

Restaurant & Catering Australia chief executive John Hart said fake reviews were a huge problem for the association, estimating one in 10 reviews had ”some falsehood in it”.

”Generally they’re [written by] ex-staff or disgruntled neighbours or somebody that’s got an axe to grind about that venue. [They] can have a huge impact.”

Mr Hart said the ACCC guidelines did not go far enough and called for a code of conduct for review platforms.

In a statement, TripAdvisor said it fought fraud aggressively, with each review going through a sophisticated tracking system. Its 200 content specialists investigated every review noted for inspection by its system and acted on any reports received.

It does not verify reviews ”as we believe every experience counts, not just the one where you paid the bill. If we required people to submit a receipt, then a lot of people who have had a genuine customer experience wouldn’t have a voice and that goes against what we stand for.”

”People love to have a whinge or a rant,” said Warren Turnbull, the chef at Chur Burger in Surry Hills.

”If I did the most amazing dish in the world and sold it for two dollars, there would still be people complaining.”

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MH370 search: Malaysia Airlines staff detained by hundreds of angry relatives of passengers

The search for MH370
Nanjing Night Net

Malaysian Airlines says 10 of its staff were detained for almost 10 hours by more than 200 family members of passengers on board MH370.

They also say an airline security supervisor was attacked while on duty at Beijing’s Lido Hotel, where family members have been staying and receiving briefings on the plane’s disappearance.

Angry relatives of the passengers have for weeks accused Malaysia of a secretive and incompetent response to the disappearance of the Boeing 777 with 239 people on board during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.

While the 10 staff members were being held in the hotel’s ballroom Chinese relatives held an overnight protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing.

In a statement released on Friday night the airline revealed the drama began during a scheduled briefing session at the hotel on Thursday afternoon.

The airline said the family members “expressed dissatisfaction in obtaining details of the missing aircraft”.

“The over 200 family members requested for the presence of a Malaysian official as only Malaysia Airlines staff were present at the briefing session,” the airline said.

“The 10 airline staff, then, were told to wait at the ballroom while a group of 60 family members left for the Malaysian embassy in an attempt to get a government official to attend the briefing,” it said.

“The group finally released staff at 1.44am Friday.”

The airline said in another incident security supervisor Kalaichelven Shunmugam was “attacked by a Chinese family member” while on duty at the hotel on 22 April.

“The airline staff (member) tried to stop an aggressive family member who demanded access to the secretariat, when the latter kicked the staff (member) in his left knee,” the airline said.

The supervisor suffered only slight injury.

The airline says it has filed a police report on the incident.

Before the statement was released, media reports said tension had boiled over at Thursday’s briefing at the hotel where Malaysia Airlines has been paying for the relatives’ accommodation.

“We want somebody from the embassy to come out and tell us why they didn’t come,” said relative Steven Wang.

He said about 100 people had waited outside the embassy overnight.

Police were guarding the embassy on Friday.

Dozens of relatives staged another noisy protest outside the embassy last month.

Malaysia has promised to release a preliminary report next week into the plane’s disappearance.

The government has copped a barrage of international criticism over its cautious approach not to release or confirm information obtained by an international investigation group unless it has first been verified and corroborated.

Police conducting a separate criminal investigation have released only scant information about their findings.

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Roger Bushell’s life story is a great escapism

THE GREAT ESCAPER: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF ROGER BUSHELL By Simon Pearson. Hodder and Stoughton. $32.99.
Nanjing Night Net

Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, stories of key people and dramatic wartime events are still coming into sharp focus for the first time.

One of these people, about whom little was known until recently, was Roger Bushell, mastermind of what became known as ”The Great Escape” of British POWs from Stalag Luft III in 1943.

One of the prisoners involved in the planning of that breakout was Australian author Paul Brickhill, and he wrote a bestselling book called The Great Escape about Bushell and the whole enterprise.

Sadly many people today only know the story because Hollywood turned it into a silly American ”epic” with actor Steve McQueen making his bid for freedom on a motorcycle.

Many years ago I read Brickhill’s The Great Escape, together with his other bestsellers, Reach for the Sky and The Dambusters.

One day when I was visiting a convalescent hospital in Sydney I met Brickhill, who was a patient, and chatted with him about his books. He had no other visitors that morning and we had a long yarn. He showed me the proof copy of his latest book, The Deadline (1962), which had just arrived from Collins, the publishers.

He knew Roger Bushell in the POW camp and I wish I had asked him more about his memories of the Great Escape. Like Bushell, Brickhill had been a Spitfire pilot, shot down and taken prisoner in North Africa.

It was, in fact, only two years ago that Bushell’s family donated his personal papers and diaries and letters to the Imperial War Museum. Now at last it became possible to research the life of an almost-forgotten hero.

The author, Simon Pearson, is chief night editor of The Times and his journalistic skills help to make this a most readable book.

Bushell was born in 1910 into a wealthy British family in South Africa and was educated in England at Wellington College and Cambridge, where he studied law. He was passionate about athletics and skiing and fluent in French and German. This biography gives a glittering picture of his expansive London social round in the 1930s.

Gradually the shadows of Nazi expansion closed in and Bushell, who loved flying, joined the Auxiliary Royal Air Force. He was appointed to command 92 Squadron in October 1939 and made squadron leader soon after.

It was in May 1940 that the so-called phoney war came to an end and Bushell experienced his first (and last) combat. As he wrote to his parents from Germany, he was shot down near Boulogne on May 23 in a big battle with Messerschmitts. ”I got two of them first so I have done something to win the war,” he wrote.

Now Bushell and many others found themselves in captivity. His thoughts constantly turned to a young lady named Peggy Hamilton whom he planned to marry.

Allied to that was his other passion, which was to escape and get home. A fellow POW wrote: ”Roger was the organising genius of all our escaping exploits.”

His repeated escapes from various camps shows that ”genius” was not too strong a word. He was truly ”the great escaper”. There burned within him a deep hatred of the Nazis and a determination to regain his freedom, and to make life difficult for the Germans in the process.

Roger Bushell made three escapes but was recaptured each time. The first was in June 1941 and he was recaptured within a few metres of the Swiss border and freedom. The second was while a train carrying the prisoners stopped at Hanover during a transfer to another camp. Bushell and another POW were able to spend some time in ”safe houses” in occupied Prague. But in the manhunt following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, architect of the Holocaust, in May 1942, they were rounded up by the Gestapo.

Finally came the so-called ”Great Escape”. Bushell planned three tunnels, known as Tom, Dick and Harry. These were to allow up to 200 men to get away and 600 men were involved in construction. The result was a tragic failure. Only 76 officers finally got clear of the camp, far fewer than Bushell had envisaged, but it was still the biggest British breakout of the war, and Bushell was the mastermind. Of the 76 who got away, 73 were recaptured.

The highest levels of the crumbling Nazi regime, under the orders of Hitler, decided that 50 of the escapees should be executed, including Bushell.

He was shot by the Gestapo. He is buried in the Poznan Old Garrison cemetery in Poland. After the war his murderers were executed as war criminals.

The life and death of Roger Bushell shows an unshakeable determination to challenge Nazi tyranny no matter the cost. His commanding officer said that Bushell was one of the greatest of his generation.

Robert Willson is a regular reviewer.

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Kim Philby’s tale of betrayal

A SPY AMONG FRIENDS: KIM PHILBY AND THE GREAT BETRAYAL By Ben Macintyre. Bloomsbury. $29.99.
Nanjing Night Net

Where is there room for a new book on the Cambridge spy for Moscow, Kim Philby, given the abundance of earnest, straight-up-and-down accounts of his perfidy, as well as the wonderfully engaging, inside-out perspective in Robert Littell’s novel, Young Philby?

The slightly unconvincing answer offered by Ben Macintyre, an English journalist, is that Harold Adrian Russell Philby might be better appreciated through his relations with one of the innumerable colleagues he betrayed, one Nicholas Elliott of MI6.

According to Macintyre, Elliott loved Philby, “with a powerful male adoration that was unrequited, unsexual and unstated”.

Despite that trio of un-s, the friendship was not intrinsically uninteresting. Macintyre may not be correct in arguing that “to many readers, Philby remains opaque, like the Cold War itself, often alluded to but little understood”, but he might just have a point in observing Philby “in a different way, through the prism of personal friendship”.

Macintyre proffers “two men bonded by class, club and education but divided by ideology … the most intimate of enemies”.

Both were brought up largely by nannies and concealed a certain shyness, but – thankfully – Macintyre’s delving into psycho-analysis is terminated at that point.

Elliott could have served as a role model for Woody Allen’s Zelig, as an offsider who stands off to the side, someone present at great events but not exercising decisive influence on them, a friend who stood up for Philby when he should have stood up to him.

Macintyre may lack the finesse and flair Littell displayed throughout his Philby book (many of us do not shine by comparison with Littell), but he is a quite talented writer nonetheless.

Macintyre is especially adept at sketching characters, setting a scene and telling stories, even tales of Philby already written down at least once too often.

He also has a remarkably keen eye for whimsically eccentric detail.

Elliott had a great uncle who bet that he could smoke his height in cheroots every day (and died trying). Elliott’s first domicile as a spy was a soundproof cell in Wormwood Scrubs prison. Philby’s father was married to a Baluchi slave girl given to him by an Arabian King. Here, a cook confects vodka in a bathtub, a secretary brushes her teeth with Turkish Cointreau (and finds that concoction refreshing), and a German spy at Cambridge is tagged in the most winning way.

“His name, unimprovably, was Engelbertus Fukken.”

Macintyre may falter when he tries to sum up Philby, other than by disquisitions on his charm. He notes that Philby “enjoyed deception”, after having suggested that, “in some ways, Philby’s story is that of a man in pursuit of ever more exclusive clubs”.

Familiar stories can be retold in quite clever, skewed, cock-eyed ways; Scott Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia is a rich tribute to another famous Englishman who went astray. Macintyre’s Philby, though, is given little that is new to say or do, while Elliott seems too much like a cipher who devoted his life to ciphers.

Macintyre’s book contains an unexpected, welcome bonus. John le Carre has contributed an afterword, describing his own talks with Elliott.

Again, digressions in the form of anecdotes lift the narrative. As a spy himself, Graham Greene tried his hardest to use the code group for “eunuch”.

A London prostitute would not sleep with a particular asset from the Middle East because the designated place of assignation was close to the House of Commons, where her father served as an MP.

Both Macintyre and le Carre could be invited back on the strength of their stories alone.

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Mixing fact with fable in a tall tale

THE EMPRESS LOVERBy Linda Jaivin. HarperCollins. $29.99.
Nanjing Night Net

Somewhat put off by the flakiness of Linda Jaivin’s early novels, I wondered why such a brilliant China scholar would write them – unless she was broke. Then in 2009 she produced an accomplished, well-researched novel of Japan and China in the heyday of G.E. ”Chinese” Morrison, A Most Immoral Woman, without losing any of the fun.

Prodigiously hard-working, Jaivin has won praise for her fact-based books on China’s tumultuous recent past, and this year a Quarterly Essay, Found in Translation, consolidates her reputation. Now, for admirers hungry for another novel, she has served up a steaming feast, with some unexpected taste thrills.

In a hilarious episode Linnie, Jaivin’s persona, overhears a conversation between two Australian women in a sauna, in which every sentence ends with a rising interrogative. Such is its banality that Linnie, who has studied Chinese at ANU with Geremie Barme and Kevin Rudd in the 1970s, decides on the spot to leave Sydney and go back to Beijing. There, freezing in her rented hutong room, Linnie, needing an income but no slouch at procrastination, has 24 hours to subtitle an incomprehensible film and then an enticing rendezvous to keep.

So her story, complete with distractions, flashbacks and yearnings for Q, her faithless lover, takes place in a day and a night, in the manner of Proust and Joyce; and its recurring theme is memory. Much of human experience falls down a universal memory hole, and becomes ”dark matter”, she reflects, and all around us the ”sensual cacophony engulfs memories like quicksand”.

We are led to understand that the old manual typewriter print font used at the beginning of the book, and later, was the transcription done by Reinhard Hoeppli of a manuscript given to the Swiss doctor by his dear friend, Sir Edmund Backhouse, who wrote it on his deathbed in 1944.

How it reaches Linnie, and her connection with Backhouse, is revealed in striptease fashion as the story proceeds. But readers will remember Backhouse (also pronounced Bacchus) from the hatchet job done on him in 1976 by the historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper.

He was one of those minor English noblemen whose Greek, Latin, French and Italian were impeccable, but whose sexual predilections were so outrageous that his family were pleased when he fled his creditors and sailed to China, never to return.

No lover of Britain, Backhouse was on good terms with the likes of Oscar Wilde, Paul Verlaine, and Frederick Rolfe (the self-styled Baron Corvo, another bizarre figure of whom Australian author Robert Scoble wrote an account, Raven, last year).

Sir Edmund was soon at ease in Mandarin, as he was in the fleshpots of China and in the beds of numerous Chinese men. His China under the Empress Dowager appeared in 1911, but his memoirs, Decadence Mandchoue, were not published until a century later. Although G.E. Morrison thought him ”wonderfully clever but morally unsound”, Backhouse’s appreciation of Chinese culture evidently impressed Imperial courtiers.

One thing led to another and eventually to the Empress Cixi’s bed. Even curiouser, the 30-something Backhouse claimed he and the dowager, nearly 70, had a son, who was discreetly removed to England. All of which, and his connection to Chinese-looking Linnie – whose Australian foster parents told her she had an ancestor who was a prince – really is, as she says, stranger than fiction. You have to read it to choose to believe it.

”Great fun,” Linnie remarks of these carryings-on, ”but nothing to be taken too seriously.” The best fun is to be had not with Backhouse’s kiss-and-tell, but with Jaivin’s observations of Beijing throughout the book.

The heirs of Chinese culture are proud of their past, yet are destroying it: ”The old city [is] disappearing at the speed of memory.” Chinese of the 1980s generation recall the Tiananmen experience like a recurring nightmare, yet young Chinese know next to nothing of it, nor of the Cultural Revolution.

Jaivin has written repeatedly about Tiananmen, and here Linnie’s ex-lover Q is consumed by it. Yet knowing him only from her account he seems aloof and self-absorbed, and I find him less entrancing and his fate less devastating than she does.

More interesting is Q’s philosopher friend, the Sage, who runs a bar in an obscure corner of Beijing.

Linnie arrives there at midnight and he treats her hypothermia with mulled claret. Her hunt in the snow for the place, and her eventual encounter there, apparently with Dr Hoeppli himself (who must have been dead for decades), is the most atmospheric passage in a highly charged book.

It remains an enigma, and is the novel’s real climax, while the Tiananmen event which follows it is not.

Dr Alison Broinowski, a research associate at ANU, reviews and researches Asian Australian fiction.

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