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Picture Glenda Moore. A 39-year-old mother, she instinctively set out to protect her two small boys as the lights went out when hurricane Sandy struck – and the floods seeped into their Staten Island home.
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Or maybe the 50-something George Dresch, who figured he could sit out the storm with his wife and daughter, at home on the same exposed flank of the island – in New York Harbour and facing the open Atlantic.

Or perhaps their fellow islander, Leonard Montalto, 53, who shooed his daughter to safety as the flood level rose, insisting he must stay back to be sure the basement pump continued to work.

In opting to flee or remain, each wrote a little-people drama which, collectively, are more within human comprehension than is the big-picture destruction of the hurricane’s assault on the north-east corner of the US this week.

Moore’s SUV stalled on a flooded seaside road. Opting to make a run for it, she clutched two-year-old Brandon in one arm; and with the other, she dragged Connor, 4. But she stumbled, losing her grip and both boys disappeared in what, by then, had become a “raging tide”.

The flood dumped her in a flooded marsh, from which she emerged to spend two hours going door to door, pleading with neighbours to help her find the boys – but none would, she told local police.

Dresch and his 13-year-old daughter, Angela, disappeared when a catastrophic wave ripped apart their home in Oakwood. Several kilometres away in Tottenville, but still on the island, Montalto sounded confident as he watched the pump and uttered what would be his last word to his 24-year-old daughter. In a mobile phone conversation, he told her: “The water’s rushing in – it’s a good thing you got out.”

The bodies of the Moore boys were found on Thursday in a swamp. The body of the Dresch girl was found a block away from the splintered wreckage of their home on Tuesday; that of her father was recovered several streets away on Wednesday. A search of Montalto’s flooded basement by police divers failed to turn up his body, but it was recovered after neighbours punched a hole in the wall, which allowed the water to drain away.

These painful stories about the dead are swamped in accounts of the struggle by the living in the days after the hurricane.

New York certainly came to a shrieking halt – its subway system was flooded; all buses were off the roads; the bridges and tunnels that moor Manhattan to the rest of America were closed; power and communications were lost for millions; hospitals were evacuated when back-up power failed; and supermarket shelves were stripped bare. But for all the attention lavished on New York City this week, the real recovery crisis was across the Hudson River where, as late as Thursday, 20,000 people still were stranded in flooded homes and 6000 evacuees hunkered in emergency shelters in major centres such as Hoboken and Jersey City – amid rising fears of a public health crisis.

After making landfall on the New Jersey coast late on Monday, hurricane Sandy ran amok, bringing this prosperous north-east corner of the US to its knees – more than 90 people died, 38 of them in New York, as eight-plus million lost electricity and public transport was strangled in a frenzy of meteorological violence priced at almost $50 billion.

That estimate is huge, but comparatively it represents less than half the cost of the terrorist attacks of September 21, 2001; or Katrina, the hurricane that killed almost 2000 people as it barrelled into New Orleans and the south-east in 2005.

Moody’s Analytics economists attributed about $20 billion of the price tag to business lost by restaurants, casinos and airlines.

The other $30-odd billion would go to repairs on homes and property. Think of it as nature’s economic stimulus, the immediate impact of which was to push up the price of shares in hardware and materials suppliers Home Depot and Lowe’s in Wednesday’s resumption of trading on Wall Street.

Millions of homes in up to a dozen states are still without power and might have to survive another week or more without lifts, lights, heating, mobile phone service, Wi-Fi, refrigeration and hot showers.

In New York, water is in short supply – and being hauled on foot to the old and infirm in city high-rises. Ditto petrol, with long queues forming at service stations, especially in New Jersey. Emergency kitchens were being set up in New York to feed those unable to fend for themselves and sentinel columns of portable toilets adorn the forecourt of some apartment complexes.

By Wednesday, airports had partially reopened. Local public transport in New York in particular, remained affected – prompting authorities to insist on at least three people in cars entering Manhattan.

In a display of the pragmatism for which New Yorkers are renowned, the clientele of Manhattan’s downtown restaurants, still without power and struggling to get supplies, simply moved to unaffected uptown eateries – where maître-d’s report a boom in business.

But if local and federal authorities wanted affirmation that they were seen to be doing the best they could to restore services, then it came late on Thursday when the only bone of contention on the news radar was the wisdom of a decision by organisers of Sunday’s New York City Marathon to go ahead with the event which is expected to draw a field of more than 40,000 and traditionally pulls as many as a million spectators.

Of all the states, New Jersey seemed to suffer most, with its waterside cities and hamlets taking a special hammering.

After losing electricity as Sandy blew through, authorities decided on Thursday that they also must cut the gas supply lines to the barrier islands along the Jersey Shore, because of the risk of fire and explosions in thousands of damaged and destroyed seaside homes.

Atlantic City’s dozen casinos remain closed, pending the restoration of power and potable water supplies. Thousands of utility workers from 12 other states were pouring in to help in the recovery.

Politics is never far from a crisis even when, as happened in the US this week, President Barack Obama and his republican challenger Mitt Romney declared that campaigning for Tuesday’s election had to be put aside. But there were “oohs” among the political chattering classes when the New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, a staunch Republican who might have been Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, effectively endorsed the Democrat Obama with his effusive praise for the President’s handling of the emergency response to Sandy.

And on Thursday, there were “ahs”, and even gasps when the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a self-described independent and a vocal critic of both Obama and Romney, declared that he must stand with Obama because in the aftermath of the hurricane, the poll needed to be perceived as who was the better candidate to tackle global climate change.

In the wall-to-wall media discourse on what Americans are learning about themselves and their society this week, a standout voice was that of an émigré Russian driver in New York’s Coney Island. On emerging after the storm, he was horrified to find his livelihood – his limousine – in waist-deep water and facing the opposite direction to that in which he had parked it the previous evening. Scoffing at how coddled Americans were, he chortled that growing up in Russia made him ready for anything. Then he marvelled at something very German, which indicated that his horror had been misplaced – turns out his Mercedes-Benz was floating because its door seals were so perfect, not a drop of water had seeped in. Boris was still in business.

But as New York struggles to get back to business, there is less to marvel at. Behind the high-tech dazzle and glitz of Times Square, the city’s infrastructure – physical and ethereal – was revealed as a carelessly fragile construct.

Some elements indeed may be as clever as the Mercedes-Benz door seals, but as the self-styled capital of the world, the Big Apple failed under pressure.

Radley Horton, a climate scientist and an adviser to New York City, discerns a teachable moment. Amid rising sea levels and temperatures and accelerated melting of the Arctic ice, he argues that Sandy’s ferocity has thrust the city’s ability to cope into unprecedented territory.

Ironically, he argued that New York had been preparing for such a storm – “but the impacts were on an extreme scale, and that’s very challenging to prepare for.”

Predicting a time-consuming recovery before there might be any detailed attention to preventive measures, Horton itemises a massive to-do list – pump out subway tunnels before electrical transit equipment can be tested and replaced; fix electrical distribution stations which were inundated; deal with the buildings in which electrical equipment is located in basements; and address the surprising vulnerability of coastal communities to fire.

Did someone say Haiti?

Haiti is not exactly a suburb of New York. But almost twice as many Haitians as New Yorkers died and more than 200,000 of their homes were destroyed or damaged as hurricane Sandy spun her wheels in the Caribbean last week before heading north. The tiny island with a population of just a few more than New York was still reeling from a 2010 earthquake that killed 316,000, injured 300,000 and left one-million-plus homeless.

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Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping meets Sarah Lande’s granddaughter in Iowa.

LATE one afternoon in mid-February, China’s president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, stood on the front verandah of Sarah Lande’s home on a bluff that rises over the little town of Muscatine, Iowa, and looked out over the broad slow flow of the Mississippi River into Indiana.

Over tea, in the rather grand front room of the Landes’ polished Victorian home, Xi told Sarah Lande he had dreamt of the Mississippi since reading Mark Twain as a child.

Being one of the most powerful men on earth, Xi was not the only guest. Lande remembers Muscatine’s mayor, China’s ambassador to the United States and assorted Chinese ministers. There were also 14 men and women to whom Lande refers as the ”group of friends” who Xi had met when he went to the region in 1985 as part of an agricultural exchange.

When we  visited earlier this month, Lande showed off the group photo taken on her stairs, and standing by the fireplace where Xi had stood, she explained how he had said: ”For me, you are America.”

It is easy to imagine how the pretty rural prosperity of Muscatine might have impressed a Chinese provincial official less than a decade after the end of the Cultural Revolution. ”We treated him what we like to call ‘Iowa nice’,” Lande explains, referring to a form of hospitality that tends to include warm, plain talk, corn and pork.

Xi might not feel so welcome now, at the end of a long and bitterly fought election campaign in which China has sometimes been used as a cipher for American fears of economic, social and political decline.

In ads and speeches, the Republican candidate Mitt Romney has accused President Barack Obama of being too soft on China, and has vowed to label the Chinese as currency manipulators ”on day one”. The Obama campaign has portrayed Romney as a vulture capitalist who has enriched himself by exporting manufacturing jobs to China.

In one anti-Romney ad, a worker explains how the new owners of his company instructed staff to remove the American flag.

Allegedly non-partisan independent groups have been on the attack too. Ten days ago, a group called Citizens Against Government Waste revived a highly controversial ad set in Beijing in the year 2030, in which a professor is lecturing a class on why great nations fail. ”America tried to spend and tax itself out of a great recession,” the professor explains in subtitled Mandarin. ”Of course, we owned most of their debt. So now they work for us.” The professor titters, the class laughs.

In these dying days of the deadlocked election, both parties have focused on Ohio, where Obama led by just 1.9 points in the Real Clear Politics poll average on Tuesday.

All indications are that yet again this state could decide which party wins the election. There is also evidence that Obama is still enjoying some advantage among the white male demographic as a result of his bailout of the auto industry.

This week Romney’s campaign attacked, releasing an ad claiming that the bailout had led to Chrysler, which had been bought out by Fiat, transferring jobs to China.

The ad is not entirely true, as the plant in China is expanding to increase output to feed demand from the burgeoning Chinese middle class. Jobs are not being transferred from the US to China, they are being created in China. But electoral politics is a killing ground for such nuance, and though the ad has been torn apart by the fact-checkers that have been so much a part of this campaign, the response of Romney’s team has been to ramp up their broadcasting in Ohio. Clearly, strategists believe it is working.

TWO days after the November 6 US election, the Chinese Communist Party will begin its own leadership transition at the Great Hall of the People. The 18th Party Congress, on November 8-14, will be immediately followed by the unveiling of the new general secretary, Xi Jinping, the expected new premier, Li Keqiang and their team, on November 15. The personalities and positions that are set in Washington and Beijing will shape the world.

The coincidence of a US and China leadership transition is a once-in-40-year event. And it is happening at a historic moment, when China is challenging the US position as the world’s sole superpower.

If Xi can keep the ship on course, the Chinese economy may well overtake the US as the world’s largest economy during his decade-long term. Every country in the region is scrambling to exploit, hedge and otherwise adjust its bearings.

”The weight of the world’s economy is genuinely moving in our direction,” said Prime Minister Julia Gillard this week, unveiling her new white paper on the Asia century. ”When we map the centre of gravity of global consumption, we see it is shifting east by more than 100 miles a year.”

Inevitably, where economic power goes, strategic and military power follows. The global centre of military firepower is shifting towards this region almost as fast as GDP. Canberra has been at the vanguard of building and reinvigorating a latticework of regional security relationships, anchored in the might of the US. A year ago, Obama chose the Australian Parliament as the venue to announce his foreign policy ”pivot” to Asia.

”The possibility that we could devolve into a much more confrontational relationship is at one of the highest points than at any time since the opening of relations,” says Bates Gill, the newly arrived chief executive of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, who is also an expert on China security issues.

The Obama administration and the Gillard government have been at pains to avoid naming China as the reason. But others are not so reticent.

”Australians view themselves as facing a strategic threat — this time from a China that is growing in every way and very fast, and that shows every sign of wanting to expand territorially as well,” writes Pentagon consultant Ed Luttwak in a new book, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy.

Dennis Richardson, the outgoing secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told his new cadets earlier this year that the rivalry between the two powers would last longer than the Cold War, and it would not simply ”evolve so you can tie a ribbon on top”, according to a source in the room. ”The dynamics of the US-China relationship will shape your entire careers,” said Richardson, who has recently moved to run the Department of Defence.

The realignment of diplomatic and military power will be more complex and fluid than the Cold War with the Soviets. Growing US-China rivalry is accompanied by growing interdependency.

It is no coincidence that Richardson sent two of his top China hands to key American posts. Graeme Fletcher, the former deputy head of mission at the Australian embassy in Beijing, is now the deputy in Washington. The international adviser to the former prime minister Kevin Rudd, Scott Dewar, is consul-general in Honolulu, where his job is to work with the US Pacific Command as it sends its six aircraft carrier groups, 180 ships and 1500 aircraft across half of the globe.

In June, in Singapore, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta flagged a ”rebalancing” that would see 60 per cent of US naval assets positioned in the Pacific. And in a fortnight from now, Panetta and the outgoing US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, are scheduled to fly to Perth for the ”Ausmin” strategic dialogue. They are pencilled in to dine with Gillard on November 14, after discussions with Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Defence Minister Stephen Smith. Gill says both countries will likely be ”quietly exploring” ways to increase intelligence co-operation, upgrade co-operation in operating space-related assets from Australian soil, and also enhance the capacity to maintain and resupply American naval vessels. It is unlikely that they will use the occasion to act on a suggestion in a recent report to the Pentagon that the local deep-water port, HMAS Stirling, will be expanded to accommodate US aircraft carriers.

The Australian ambassador to Beijing, Frances Adamson, said this week that Smith would not be making any surprise announcements about deepening military ties. His press releases, she said, ”are not necessarily the sorts of things that make you swing into print and write front-page stories”. Not, at least, on the eve of Xi Jinping’s rise to power.

Until the start of this year, the consensus among political analysts was that China would have a smooth leadership change with any differences safely locked away behind closed doors. This transition, however, is the first in the history of the People’s Republic that has not been orchestrated by the founding fathers of the 1949 revolution.

It is shaping up as an epic contest at a moment of growing social, economic and political tension and uncertainty. And whereas America’s presidential candidates slog it out in public, with clear and independently enforced rules, China’s political adversaries face off inside the same tent and without enforceable ground rules.

The scale of the Chinese political scandals that have leaked out from the black box this year make Romney’s tax problems look trivial. They include the highest level attempted defection in 40 years; a murder of an English businessman (by the wife of a Politburo member); a top party official covering up his son’s death in an exploding Ferrari (reportedly with two semi-clad women) and foreign media exposes that separately found that the families of two of the top leaders controlled billion-dollar fortunes. And then Xi Jinping failed to emerge in public for a fortnight.

”The poor guy — it’s like Obama four years ago — facing a completely impossible array of challenges,” says Professor Geremie Barme, director of the Australian National University’s Centre for China in the World. ”That’s probably why he took a sickie a few weeks ago,” he said, referring to Xi’s two-week disappearance from the public stage, which remains entirely unexplained.

”It is a state of extreme chaos,” said one Beijing political watcher, LiWeidong. ”There is nobody in absolute control.”

While the American contestants are sometimes reacting crudely to China’s rapidly accumulating power, those in China seem more preoccupied with their own fragility. Chinese leaders have responded by bolstering their personal and collective defences with the strongest, crudest and most dangerous display of nationalism in decades.

Japan has been the target of shrill propaganda and state-sponsored protests, over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, but the spectre of America has been hovering in the background. Chinese politicians and regional security analysts see regional affairs almost entirely through the prism of what they see as the US defending its hegemony against the rising power of China.

That is why many observers see the dispute ”as a time bomb planted by the US” between China and Japan, a retired senior Chinese official told foreign reporters in Hong Kong this week. ”That time bomb is now exploding, or about to explode.”

If China has emerged as a feature in American politics, then the US is China’s obsession, the measure of the country’s achievement and also the imagined ”enemy” by which it defines itself. ”It has been a constant and strong belief that the US has sinister designs to sabotage the Communist leadership and turn China into its vassal state,” as Wang Jisi, foreign policy adviser to a former Chinese president, explained in a candid report for the Brookings Institution earlier this year.

And while the children of the party elite travel in droves to study in the US, the party itself sees the very existence of the US as a challenge to its monopoly on power. Party leaders seem to have even made a pact with each other – like a gang, or a cult – that they would not succumb to American ideas.

”We have made a solemn declaration,” said China’s low-profile second-ranked leader, Wu Bangguo, last year, ”that we will not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation; diversify our guiding thought; separate executive, legislative and judicial powers; use a bicameral or federal system; or carry out privatisation.”

Later in 2011, Obama responded with his ”pivot” speech in Canberra, which outlined all the things that China’s leaders insist they will resist. ”Certain rights are universal; among them, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and the freedom of citizens to choose their own leaders,” Obama said. Within months, the first US marines arrived in Darwin.

If the 2008 US election was about hope and change, this year’s ambitions are far more modest. Obama is fighting a rearguard action to protect what change he managed to grind through the recalcitrant Congress he was left with after 2010.

Romney, ignoring his own bold record on health reform as governor of Massachusetts, argues that his business experience qualifies him to cut unemployment, deficit and debt. His broad approach to China seems unlikely to diverge much from Obama’s, despite some occasional rhetorical excursions.

In his book No Apology – effectively a job application published two years ago – he describes how in 2006 the former ambassador to China, Clark Randt jnr, told him that many Chinese believed their nation contained an energy, much as an individual does, and that when that energy is blocked, the nation becomes ill.

”When foreigners cut off Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the theory holds this weakened China and prevented it from regaining its past greatness,” Romney writes. Mostly, however, Romney is rephrasing the Obama policy.

”It is in our best interests to draw China into the circle of responsible nations and, at the same time, to strengthen our capacity to intervene in Asia, if necessary, to prevent China from imposing its will on independent nations,” he writes.

One of Romney’s advisers is Aaron Friedberg, who served as a national security adviser to then vice-president Dick Cheney between 2003 and 2005.

In September, Friedberg, now a Princeton professor of public and international affairs, wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs that the ”responsible stakeholder” policy of integrating China was not working.

He said China’s at once ”arrogant and insecure” leadership was prompting increased tension in the Pacific and had failed to help America solve its key diplomatic problems, particularly North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs.

Friedberg says China’s leadership is determined to overtake America as the dominant regional power – a situation he says America could not and should not abide.

He suggests America should adopt a policy of standing its ground, continuing its engagement with China while increasing its force in the region, specifically by increasing its military investment and deepening its alliances in the region, and by supporting arms purchases by those allies.

This sounds like Obama’s ”pivot” in the Australian Parliament, which Friedberg dismisses as a largely symbolic transfer of existing forces. It is perhaps a pivot, but with more teeth.

The heavily contested American election may not change the world. By contrast, in the ”selection” in China, where there is only one party, the possibilities seem wide open. Xi’s treatment of the US will, to a large extent, define the China that he rules for the coming decade. The relationship will shape the world.

On the banks of the Mississippi they reckon that Xi is not a man who pits himself against America.

After his recent visit to Muscatine, The New York Times noted dryly that it constituted something of a propaganda coup, a ”tightly choreographed moment” intended to deepen his connection with the American heartland.

Well, perhaps. But Sarah Lande does not doubt Xi’s sincerity. ”When he walked in the door, the smile, the greeting, the handshake, it was so warm,” she said.

”We could see he was so happy to see us. It jumped out of him.”

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Bumboras Bay.Louise Southerden joins the flying visitors writing a new chapter in Norfolk Island’s colourful history.
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Flying in over green hills, listening to Air New Zealand’s Kiwi flight attendants, I can’t help but feel I’m arriving on a small piece of the North Island that has broken off and drifted 1000 kilometres north.

Norfolk Island isn’t part of New Zealand, of course. It’s a self-governing territory of Australia. Officially, that is. In reality, it’s a world unto itself, with its own language (Norf’k, a blend of 18th-century English and Tahitian) and way of life.

People wave at each other, and at tourists. There are no traffic lights, and cows have right of way on the roads. Remember when shops, cafes and museums in Sydney would close on Saturday afternoons? On Norfolk they still do.

“I’m a bit crazy,” says Les Quintal, who looks and sounds like Geoffrey Rush, as he takes us for an introductory drive around the island. “It’s from the inbreeding,” he cackles. Like 40 per cent of Norfolk’s 1800 residents, Quintal is descended from a Bounty mutineer. You can’t go far on Norfolk without bumping into its history.

It’s on the road signs (Pitcairn Place, Fletcher Christian Road, Baunti Centre) and at landmarks (such as Captain Cook lookout, where a stone cairn commemorates Cook naming the island after the Duchess of Norfolk in 1774). It’s all over Kingston, a former penal settlement, where graves of convicts and soldiers, children and murderers lie side by side. Then there’s Cyclorama – a 360-degree mural conceived by Marie Bailey, a descendant of Fletcher Christian – where you can walk right into Norfolk’s past.

Closing the door behind me, I’m suddenly standing on the dock at Portsmouth, listening to gulls and the rain as the Bounty departs for the tropics, then following it to Tahiti where it’s commandeered by Christian and sails on to Pitcairn Island. It’s affecting and helps make sense of the island’s convoluted history.

A country-town vibe, a colourful history – no surprises there. But the winds of change have been blowing across this volcanic isle, particularly since Air New Zealand won an Australian government tender in March to provide five flights a week to the island – two from Sydney, two from Brisbane and one from Auckland.

After decades of seven-night packages, Norfolk is fast becoming a short-break destination for time-poor urbanites. There’s plenty of accommodation – about 1400 visitor beds, most in self-contained cottages or apartments. It helps that the flying time from the east coast of Australia is about two hours and flights to and from Sydney run on Fridays and Mondays.

“It’s a big advantage having a high-profile airline such as Air New Zealand, and its schedule has even allowed us to offer weekend trips to Norfolk Island, which wasn’t possible before,” says the general manager of the Norfolk Island Tourism Bureau, Glen Buffett.

Plans to integrate the island with Australia could allow local tour operators to join the Tourism Australia family, too. In the meantime, Norfolk is updating itself.

There’s still plenty of island charm, from knitwear shops to quilting retreats, but there are now wearable-arts shows, holistic-living festivals, three music festivals (opera in February, country music in May, jazz in December) and an annual golf pro-am.

There are self-guided iPod tours of the island’s national park, secret spots and historical sites, and iPod commentary on a new photography exhibition, The World of Norfolk. Norfolk Island Museum recently launched its new website (norfolkislandmuseum南京夜网.au); and Parks Australia’s new interpretative centre has live feeds from Phillip Island, a seabird sanctuary six kilometres off the south coast.

Norfolk is becoming more active, too – from snorkelling and reef-walking tours, to walking tracks and beach yoga classes. Want to go surfing, kayak around the island, try rock fishing? Ask a local or drop by the tourist information office (which amounts to the same thing); anything’s possible on a small island.

Who knew Norfolk had its own winery? The Two Chimneys boutique vineyard opened its doors in 2006 and offers tastings of its New England wines and is expecting its first harvest next year. It’s just one of the foodie attractions on an island that lives and breathes sustainability and self-sufficiency, by necessity. “By law we can’t import a lot of produce, so most of what you eat here is grown or made here,” Buffett says.

Coffee is grown among the Norfolk pines in Anson Bay; Anson Coffee opened a cafe in July, has a mobile coffee van and runs plantation tours. Next month, local surfer Emily Ryves will open her new venture, Hilli Goat Farm, also at Anson Bay; she plans to sell goat’s cheese at a small cafe on the property.

Norfolk Blue beef cattle homestead and restaurant offers a true “paddock to plate” experience, while Hilli’s (another restaurant) has a new Mastering Tastes tour where guests gather and prepare local produce with its head chef. Then there’s Dino’s, which grows its own herbs and vegetables; its 19th-century Norfolk-pine bungalow wouldn’t look out of place in Newtown, with its eclectic artworks, old photographs and crystal chandeliers.

But the island isn’t too fashionable, not yet, thank goodness. It might want to shake off its quaintness, but it’s the oddities that make it special. Where else can you play golf on a World Heritage site for just $70 a week? The phone book famously lists locals by their nicknames, such as Binky, Crowbar, Lettuce Leaf and Gumboots. God Save the Queen is the island’s anthem and Thanksgiving Day is a public holiday (a legacy of American whalers). On Norfolk Island, it all makes perfect sense.

As the world gets faster and busier, who doesn’t long for a simpler, slower way of life? On this little island you can have it, if only for a long weekend.

FAST FACTS

Getting there Air New Zealand flies to Norfolk Island from Sydney (2hr 30min) on Mondays and Fridays from $572, and from Brisbane (2hr 10min) on Tuesdays and Saturdays from $535 return, including taxes. Fares from Melbourne, including a domestic connection, start at $960. See airnewzealand南京夜网.au.

Staying there Jacaranda Park Cottages has five self-contained, one-bedroom cabins from $255 a night, including car hire, mobile phone use, airport transfers and half-day island tour. See www.jacarandapark.nlk.nf. Islander Lodge’s self-contained apartments have the best views on the island from $225 a night, phone +6723 22114 or email [email protected]

More information See theworldofnorfolk南京夜网.au.

Louise Southerden travelled courtesy of Air New Zealand and Norfolk Island Tourism Bureau.

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MYER CLASSIC
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MICHAEL Rodd has been the big group 1 player this spring but by mid-afternoon on Saturday he was starting to wonder whether his carnival was jinxed.

Remarkably, Rodd had ridden placegetters in eight of the 12 group 1 races in Melbourne so far this spring and his last hope for a win at Flemington on Saturday was the $41 chance Appearance in the Myer Classic.

”I really can’t believe it,” the 30-year-old jockey said, shaking his head after the race. ”To have gone so close on so many good horses and then to win on an outsider.”

After earlier group 1 placings on Jolie Bay (second) in the Coolmore Stud Stakes and then on Super Cool (second) in the Victoria Derby, Rodd was legged aboard Appearance in the Myer Stakes by Sydney trainer Guy Walter.

She was rated some lengths inferior to stablemate Streama, who was sent out the $3 favourite, but by the time the field had turned for the run home, Rodd was starting to think that a boilover was on the cards.

”I knew they had gone pretty hard up in front and I got my mare to the outside and thought she might be able to get close, but she kept building and building and by the time we’d got to the post, she was the strongest of them all,” he said.

”She really got her momentum up and finished really well.”

Before yesterday, Rodd had ridden in eight of the nine group 1 races held in Melbourne this spring for six placings, but he said he didn’t let that statistic worry him as he prepared himself for his four group 1 rides on Saturday.

”You quickly forgot about all those things when you go to the gates,” he said. ”I knew I was riding well and had been in the finish of a lot of big races so it was just a matter of time before it went my way and who’d have thought it would be on this mare. But I’ll take it.”

For Rodd, it was his second win in the Myer after his victory for Flemington trainer Mark Kavanagh aboard Divine Madonna five years ago. His only unplaced runner in the group 1s on Saturday’s program was the Kavanagh-trained December Draw, who showed none of his zip when well beaten in the Mackinnon Stakes.

Appearance was backed late from $51 to start at $41 and outgunned another fast finisher in Soft Sand ($10) to win by a long neck, with a head to Secret Admirer ($8) in third place.

Walter was as surprised as his rider with how the race panned out. ”I thought Michael rode a fantastic race – it was not the result I expected – but all praise for Michael and the way he handled this mare,” Walter said.

Walter explained that Appearance was not comfortable at Caulfield at her previous start.

”They went too slowly and she couldn’t get into the race but with the pace on here and with the big track, she was able to unleash her sprint,” he said.

As for Streama, Walter said she raced as though she was flat and may have come to the end of her campaign. Streama led into the home straight but was quickly swamped and tired badly to finish eighth.

Fellow Sydney mare Red Tracer shadowed Streama for the entire trip but she too knocked up badly.

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Dunaden’s trainer Mikel Delzangles warmed up for Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup when he celebrated Breeders’ Cup success with two-year-old filly Flotilla at Santa Anita on Friday.
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The French trainer will return to Melbourne for the third time this month as Dunaden defends his Melbourne Cup crown.

”This is great, absolutely great,” he said. ”It was a good preliminary for Australia.”

Flotilla settled midfield before bursting through the field as she powered home for a 1¼-length victory.

”I was surprised how well she settled here,” Delzangles said.

”I was not confident she would win but thought she would run a good race.

”Hopefully she will be a classic filly in Europe next year.”Jewel on mend

Australia’s unbeaten star Atlantic Jewel has pleased vets and remains on track to return to racing in the autumn.

She was the one-time favourite for the Cox Plate before a leg injury forced her out of the spring carnival in August.

”That was disappointing but we got some good news this week,” part-owner Laurie Macri said.

”The vets were happy with the way her leg has come along and there was enough positives there for us to start to think about her racing again. There is still a long way to go though.”

The vet report said Atlantic Jewel was a 60 per cent chance of racing again. She will continue her rehabilitation at Mark Kavanagh’s property and be checked again in two months.Fawkner rises

Fawkner is likely to rise to group 1 level for his next start after collecting a fourth consecutive win and his eighth from just 14 starts in the group 3 TAB南京夜网.au Stakes on Saturday. Part-owner Nick Williams said next Saturday’s $1 million Emirates Stakes beckoned for the son of Reset but another $1 million race was also on the cards – the group 1 Railway Stakes in Perth later this month.

Williams said the stable had always held a high opinion of Fawkner, despite buying him as a potential stayer but finding he could not run beyond 1600 metres.

”Eddie Cassar, who does a lot of the riding up on the [Mt Macedon] farm, keeps saying that he might be the best we’ve had,” Williams said.Not Dun yet

Murray Baker shrugged off his Victoria Derby disappointment with It’s A Dundeel, immediately declaring his intention to come back across the Tasman for the Australian Derby.

”He got a long way back but we always knew that,” Baker said after It’s A Dundeel ($2.70) failed to make an impression when seventh behind Fiveandahalfstar. ”The leaders just kept kicking. He’s done a lot in a short time and we’ll take him for a little spell and bring him back for the AJC Derby.

”He’s only had the six runs but travelling … has probably caught up with him a little bit.”

It’s A Dundeel won his first five starts and tasted defeat for the first time in the Vase at Moonee Valley eight days ago.

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Justin Sheman doesn’t regret moving to the Bulldogs and feels well prepared now should he find a third club or should things not work out.JUSTIN Sherman can still remember his first trade period. It wasn’t too long ago. In fact it was just two years back that Sherman decided to leave the Brisbane Lions, considered an offer from Sydney then waited anxiously for his move to the Western Bulldogs to go through.
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”It was a big decision for me to leave Brisbane, then waiting for the trade to happen was a pretty nervous time,” he said. ”At the time I can remember thinking that I didn’t want to go through something like that again. It feels like yesterday that I got there. It’s gone by pretty quickly.”

Sherman knew by the end of last season that he wouldn’t play for the Bulldogs again, despite having a year to run on his contract. He realised after a long chat with Brendan McCartney midway through the year that he needed to become a more consistent person and player to get a run in the new coach’s team and, despite finishing in what he felt was much stronger form, suspected his time was up before a second conversation when the season ended. This time there were no nibbles during trade month, making it an entirely different experience.

”I was hoping something would happen, but there wasn’t really any interest out there. I think clubs were set in their ways and knew what they wanted, and that’s fine. It was a different sort of thing to go through this year but I made sure I was concentrating on other things and I’m looking forward to the pre-season draft now,” Sherman said. ”I haven’t counted myself out. I’m hopeful, I think that’s the right word. I know that I still have a lot more to offer.”

Sherman was 23 when he became a Bulldog, bringing some pace and flair to a team that had just played off in the finals and lost Jarrod Harbrow to the Gold Coast.

He played 14 games last year, a season interrupted by a suspension for racial abuse that his new teammates helped him confront, move on and learn from, but just 10 this season as McCartney asked him to work on the defensive side of his game and his day-to-day consistency.

”We had a good heart-to-heart in the middle of the year and I understood where I needed to get better,” he said. ”I knew I hadn’t lived up to the club’s expectations and my expectations, but I kept plodding away at Williamstown and in the last four or five games I felt I started to string together some good, consistent performances. I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel and have some confidence in myself again. I’ve always prided myself on my professionalism, but I had a lot to learn about how to be a professional footy player day in, day out.

”You’ve got to do everything that’s asked and even go beyond that now. I know what I put out there wasn’t good enough. I deserved a kick in the backside and that’s what’s made me see the bigger picture.

”I know what went wrong. I’ve learnt to be a more consistent footy player and that’s what I want to keep learning to be.”

Sherman was disappointed that, after working his way into some better form, his time was considered up anyway.

But he doesn’t regret moving to the Bulldogs and feels well prepared now should he find a third club or should things not work out. He has been back training for about a month and will start working with Williamstown in the next week or two. If an AFL club doesn’t draft him he wants to play VFL next year, ”because I think a lot of clubs want to see me play consistently for a whole year”, and have another go this time next year.

He has plans to launch a personal training business soon and is well settled in Melbourne, where his parents have moved in the past year. ”It hasn’t worked out at the Bulldogs but I’m grateful to the club and everyone there. I’m disappointed with what I dished up, but there’s no point beating myself up about it now. Hopefully another club will see something in me, but if that’s meant to be it will happen, I can’t control that now,” he said.

”I’d love to have another go and give it one last crack. I’m fit and healthy and motivated to keep playing, but if it doesn’t happen then I’m ready for the next phase of my life. I’ve got some qualifications, it’s time to use them and the main thing is I’m happy. I have something to fall back on, I’ve set myself up in the past five or six weeks and I’m at ease about that, but I know that if I’m lucky enough to get another opportunity, I’m good to go and ready to make the most of it.”

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SO MUCH energy, so much newsprint and so many hours of airtime have been expended on the subject of Mick Malthouse as coach of Carlton that it somehow seems hard to believe it’s a marriage that will only be consummated officially on Monday.
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Certainly, if words were the measure of a coaching stint, Malthouse would already seem like a veteran of Visy Park.

His appointment two months ago followed several months of intense speculation the job would be his sooner rather than later. Since that debate was settled, there has been much more musing on the Blues’ future under his command.

Yet it’s only on Monday that Malthouse and the Carlton players will together start the core business of preparing in a meaningful fashion for a new AFL season.

The Blues’ first to third-year players arrived back at the club from their holiday break on Wednesday. For the rest of the list, Monday is the first day of school, with not just the students welcome.

Carlton will hold an open training session for its supporters at Visy Park at 2.45pm, with a free barbecue. It might not attract the same incredible numbers that poured into Punt Road one December afternoon the day Ben Cousins started with Richmond a few years ago but plenty of faithful are expected to turn up for a peek at the new boss and the beginning of a new era.

There’ll be several days on the track, and of testing, before the whole class, and its teacher, head to Arizona for a two-week training camp. And even hardened veterans such as Carlton skipper Chris Judd and former premiership player and now Blues football manager Andrew McKay have conceded to some child-like tingles of expectation.

”Over the last three to four weeks players have been coming in to use the altitude room or doing work in the gym and you can just feel that bit of a buzz around the place, you can tell everyone’s up and about, which is great,” says McKay.

Not that they’ve seen much, if any, of the coach yet. Malthouse’s visits to the club have been confined to the odd half-day here or there. Sometimes Muhammad, in this case the club, has had to go to the mountain. Last Monday, McKay, football administration manager Shane O’Sullivan, fitness man Justin Cordy and new assistant coach and long-time Malthouse cohort Rob Wiley met the coach in town for a long planning session.

”We spent half the day just going through our planning of training and our scheduling, just trying to bed down what we want to do this year,” says McKay. ”Justin ran through what he wants to do fitness-wise, Rob has helped design the training stuff and we talked about even little things like with travel, when we go, when we come back.

”Arizona will be about Mick getting to know the players and vice versa, getting to know how he wants to play, the structures he wants to put in place, so even though we’ll be doing a fair bit of work at altitude, it will be a good education camp as well.”

If there is a ”back to school” feel about the weeks ahead, the Carlton players are already in little doubt about who’ll be the boss. Judd knew that when he arrived at West Coast for 2002, even a couple of years after Malthouse had left.

”He probably doesn’t go down the player empowerment model, which a lot of modern-day coaches do,” Judd said this week. ”From the stories I’ve heard, he’s a bit more into rule, govern and behaviour. That will be interesting. But his record speaks for itself and I think it’s an exciting time for our footy club.”

While the players return from the US on November 25, Malthouse and McKay will leave camp a few days early to get back for the November 22 national draft, where the Blues – after remaining inactive on the trade front save for acquiring an extra pick in return for now Magpie Jordan Russell – will have eight potential selections.

Carlton was keen on a blue-chip key forward but its genuine interest at the trade table waned once Travis Cloke recommitted to Collingwood. ”We wanted the creme de la creme and not to dabble in the rest if Cloke wasn’t available,” McKay admits. ”That’s why we weren’t active in trades or free agency.

”We’ve got a number of guys that have an opportunity to really prove themselves next year that have either been injured or haven’t had that opportunity in the past.

”We feel like we’ve got some good developing forwards in [Levi] Casboult, [Luke] Mitchell, and [Shaun] Hampson showed good signs last season, and we know ‘Waitey’ [Jarrad Waite] is a good player with that X-factor that just needs to spend more time on the ground. We think there’s enough there if we develop the younger guys and keep the rest of them fit.”

In midfield the likes of Kane Lucas can expect considerably more game time, while the revitalised Brock McLean looks set to continue that resurgence under Malthouse, with the triple premiership coach a fan of the strong-bodied clearance winner. ”I think the game almost came back to Brock a little bit this year,” McKay observes. ”I suppose, with a bit more congestion, he was able to use his strength over the ball and quick hands.”

What can be said with confidence, and is already confirmed by the coach, is Carlton in 2013 will be a lot more defence minded. ”I can categorically tell you the game plan won’t change,” Malthouse said recently, meaning, of course, his game plan. ”It will be defence first, defence second and defence third.”

Carlton slipped to being the ninth-best defensive unit in terms of points against this year, having been fifth in 2011, and it has for years now, on occasion, worn the ”downhill skiers” tag.

But the Blues believe they have the personnel to turn that around under a coach famed for his tactical stinginess, and this confidence is underlined by the clearing of the defensive decks, out-of-favour types such as Paul Bower, Bret Thornton and Russell having departed.

While McKay concedes emerging key backman Andrew McInnes, who’ll miss at least half next season with a reconstructed knee, will be a major loss, the Blues look forward to the return of Jeremy Laidler, ”a real general down there”. There’s Michael Jamison, the option of versatile Lachie Henderson and defensive rebounders such as Chris Yarran and Zach Tuohy.

Malthouse has already identified Matthew Watson as a potentially big part of the jigsaw puzzle. ”Mick’s really keen to use Matthew back there, with his penetrating and accurate kicking,” says McKay.

While Malthouse will put his own obvious imprimatur on all things Carlton, the fitness program designed by Cordy won’t change a lot. It’s the upshot of that work on the field rather than the toll in the medical room the Blues hope will be the biggest practical difference in 2013, and it’s something the coach has already noted.

”He’s certainly conscious of going too hard too early,” says McKay.

”He doesn’t want anyone breaking down in Arizona. You could turn it into a really hard and physical boot camp, or just temper it a little bit and do a bit of education, skills and also just a bit of bonding. He understands it’s a long season and you need to have everyone fit by January and ready to go in February rather than flying in November and breaking down in January.”

That, though, is the players. When it comes to the subject of the game’s most talked-about coach and the new targets of his philosophies, it’s been a pretty long pre-season already. And at least, for Carlton and Malthouse the real action has finally arrived.

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NEVER has V8 Supercars gone so far for so little. As the undercard to formula one at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend, Australia’s premier racing series got three short races and the cold shoulder.

Unlike the previous two treks to Abu Dhabi in 2010 and last year, when the V8s were the main show at the dazzling Yas Marina circuit, this time they have been pushed into the background, with limited track time, unfriendly scheduling and having had to accept being penned in the secondary pit lane with no access to the F1 area.

Being marginalised by the F1 organisers has been a shock to the V8 Supercars contingent, who are used to VIP treatment on their foreign forays. It’s a long way to fly 28 cars and hundreds of tonnes of spare parts in two jumbo jets, plus airlift hundreds of V8 Supercars and team personnel, for three 12-lap, 65-kilometre sprint races.

Aside from the novelty qualifying races at the Sandown 500 in September, these are by far the shortest the V8s contest all year. So short that pit stops for tyres and fuel, along with the strategic element they add, are redundant.

Of course, being on the supporting program of an F1 event means a guest racing category will play second fiddle to the main event, but treatment verging on disdain is another matter altogether.

As well as the derisively short races, on top of severely restricted practice and qualifying sessions on Friday, the teams, officials and most of the travelling media have been penned in the support paddock far from the F1 paddock and main grandstand.

It is a well-equipped secondary pit lane, topped by a decent grandstand, and the facilities for the teams are better than those of most Australian tracks. But their passes are good for only that part of the track – with a dire written warning that being found in an unauthorised area would result in expulsion. So the V8 drivers and team bosses are just like any other spectator watching the F1s from the sidelines.

In a minor concession, on Friday the V8 teams were given three tickets per car for seats in the grandstand above their pits to watch the F1 action from a trackside vantage point.

There is a growing feeling that F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management has deliberately made life difficult for V8 Supercars with its ambitions for international expansion.

And it’s not as if the V8s are jostling for space or track time with other secondary series; it’s the only support category on the program.

Visiting Australian media were told that to cover the V8s, they’d need an F1 credential – notification of which arrived close to the one-month deadline for applications. Those who had organised this then found that, technically, their F1 media pass wasn’t good for access to the support paddock. Only some fast-talking has avoided being barred.

At the last minute, V8 officials were informed that the series’ regular safety car driver, V8 Utes racer Amber Anderson, was not qualified for the task at Abu Dhabi and had to be replaced by an F1-appointed driver.

The weekend’s three sprint races – two on Saturday and one on Sunday – have scheduled for late morning/early afternoon, at least a couple of hours before the F1 day/night action begins, resulting in almost no spectators watching the V8 races.

The track’s grandstands were almost deserted during Saturday’s almost back-to-back races, which undermines V8 Supercars’ contention that the value of being here is performing in front of powerful corporate guests. V8 officials can take some comfort, perhaps, from the fact that MotoGP star Casey Stoner has stopped in to watch on his way to his final race before retirement in Valencia, Spain, next weekend. But then, Stoner is a guest of personal sponsor Red Bull and as well as watching the V8 races from the Triple Holden pit he is hanging out with Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in the F1 pits. That’s star power for you.

■ Mark Webber’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend got off to a shaky start when he was forced to retire his Red Bull with technical trouble in Friday practice.

The Australian completed only 21 laps in the evening session, 13 fewer than his teammate and the quickest man on the Yas marina track, Sebastian Vettel.

Webber was called back to the pits after water was seen leaking from his car as he left the garage for a heavy fuel run.

He later confirmed it was a KERS issue, although different from that suffered in India the previous week.

”[It’s] a pain. Obviously it’s not great when your mileage is limited, it’s nice to have as much as you can in,” Webber said. ”We’re not to the bottom of the fault yet, that’s for sure.”

Despite the shortened run, Webber finished the night fourth fastest, behind McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

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BRETT Lee has offered to help the teenage sensation Pat Cummins ”clean up” his action and help prevent the injuries that had frustrated his career.
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Cummins, who took seven wickets in his Test debut against South Africa last year, is set to miss his second consecutive summer.

Scans revealed on Friday that he had a back stress fracture, sustained during the Sydney Sixers recent Twenty20 Champion’s League triumph.

Lee, who endured similar injury battles when he was Cummins’ age, said he had the experience to help the 19-year-old fulfil his potential.

”I’m not saying in any way, shape or form that Pat needs to change his action,” Lee said.

”But there are some things I reckon I could help him with to make it a little bit easier on his back. The one thing you don’t want as a fast bowler is hyper-extension and counter-rotation like he has, and as I did when I was at the same age as Pat. I had that same set-up, where there was a lot of twisting and turning in my action, which is where you get your pace from. But, it does come at a cost.”

Cummins vowed that the latest injury would not dampen his desire to bowl fast when he is cleared to play again. He said he would not be scared to extend himself despite the litany of injuries. ”It wasn’t great news, unfortunately,” Cummins said. ”It was not what I was hoping for or expecting. The good thing is I have time on my side. I never second-guess myself.”

Lee, who retired from first-class cricket to focus on Twenty20 leagues, said he would love to share the insights that Dennis Lillee, whose own career was affected by stress fractures, offered him years ago.

”I would love to get down the nets and work on some stuff with him, just like Dennis Lillee did for me when I was younger,” Lee said. ”I’m sure he can clean his action up. This is a real blow.

”I’m shattered for Pat, because someone like him bowling 155-160 km/h at the Gabba would be exciting to see. It would be great to see him match what the South Africans have.”

While Lee said Peter Siddle and James Pattinson provided pace and aggression, he conceded that South Africa’s Dale Steyn gave the tourists an edge.

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AFTER scoring an unconquered 161 against South Africa at the SCG on Saturday, Australia A batsman Alex Doolan hoped his innings would warrant some discussion when the national selectors met before this week’s opening Test in Brisbane.
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With concerns surrounding Test players Shane Watson (calf muscle) and Ricky Ponting (hamstring) and a string of poor scores from Australia’s top batsmen, the 26-year-old Tasmanian picked the perfect moment to play the innings of his 35 first-class match career.

The century came on the back of a stellar start to the season that has now yielded him 490 runs at an average of 81. But his effort to post his highest score – and against a world-class South African attack – was the highlight of a tough day that resulted in only one legitimate wicket falling after almost seven hours of toil by both teams.

”I certainly hoped it’s talked about,” said Doolan when asked if the knock might’ve caught the attention of the Test selectors.

”But there’s plenty of quality players in that dressing room. I mean, Phil Hughes has 19 first-class centuries, three Test centuries and two against South Africa. I think he’d be in the firing line as far as next man in. Who knows? Hopefully, it puts my name up there and, hopefully, people are starting to talk.”

Doolan, whose father Bruce faced the first ball for Tasmania when the state joined the Sheffield Shield competition in 1977, said he wouldn’t disappoint his country should his greatest wish be fulfilled.

”I feel there’s a little bit of work to be done before that chance may arise,” he said. ”But certainly, [I] feel confident enough to hold my own out there.”

Doolan resumed his innings on 76 and immediately made an impact when he hit paceman Dale Steyn for 10 runs in the first over of the morning.

While on 88 he tried to pull out of a shot against Rory Kleinveldt’s bowling but the ball still raced to the boundary after it found the toe of his bat. He notched his fifth first-class century when he cut Kleinveldt sweetly for four.

”Probably coming to terms with the fact you were playing against the world’s best team was my biggest battle and overcoming some nerves to a certain extent,” he replied when asked about the greatest challenge of the knock.

Steyn was rested after only four overs when it became clear the pitch offered the pacemen nothing. Skipper Graeme Smith ultimately left the bulk of the work to his spin bowlers.

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WITH a fundamental ethos of doing whatever it takes to trump one’s opponent, it’s hardly surprising the AFL game’s folklore would thrive on stories of slick deals and corner-cutting.
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Thus it has long been and – despite the construction of a more respectable veneer during the past two decades – thus it remains.

The lurking danger is that practitioners of football management’s dark arts will one day outsmart themselves.

It’s not hard to see the two major events of the past week as outcomes of a lingering old culture coming to grief.

If there is sufficient revulsion over a club contriving to avoid winning games and at an administration for throwing obscene sums of football money at a rugby league star whose heart was never in the indigenous code, perhaps a rethink is due.

Perhaps it’s time for administrators to think twice before imagining themselves as Edward de Bono or P.T. Barnum. Those two notables are associated, respectively, with the concept of lateral thinking and the notion of a sucker being born every minute.

At the end of an embarrassing week, it’s worth pondering what the acquisition of a priority draft pick by Melbourne in 2009 and the recruitment of Israel Folau by GWS in 2010 actually achieved. Both were attempts at tinkering with the natural order and both have ended badly. If they share a common outcome, it is loss of respect.

More distressing for Melbourne is the likelihood of carnage. Evidence is mounting that during the second half of the 2009 season specific actions were taken by important figures at the club designed to ensure the team didn’t win so many games as to disqualify itself from a priority draft pick.

The degree of evil in this, it must be said, is debatable. Obviously it is a practice that can’t go unaddressed. Yet it’s nothing like the corruption of horse racing or cricket or sports in which the use of performance-enhancing drugs influences outcomes. Self-interest was not at play.

In this case, a club stands accused of exploiting a bad rule by under-performing in what were meaningless games. It was acting in what it reasonably regarded – according to the rules – as its long-term interests. Many of its supporters sensed what was happening and approved of it.

Nevertheless, the idea that a substantial coterie could be embraced within such a conspiracy, without high risk of eventual disclosure, was totally amateurish and utterly foolish.

And it was indisputably against the spirit of sport.

But so was the rule relating to priority draft picks as it then stood. It didn’t just invite but encouraged what has happened. The AFL’s failure to change its rule at the first hint of the possibility it offered is also condemnable.

The Folau ”coup” was not so much shady as mean-spirited. A high-profile defector from rugby league represented a significant first strike on the major rival in what was now disputed territory. Or, as a well-versed modern spin doctor might put it, an important marketing tool in the code’s attempt to sell itself to a new constituency.

So what did Folau (below) deliver?

Well, certainly nothing on the football field. He was the on-field game’s equivalent of US singer Meat Loaf: highly paid but incapable of producing the goods when required.

Under normal circumstances, the club recruiter and football manager who delivered such an unproductive outcome, at such a price, would be under siege.

Clearly, though, these weren’t normal circumstances. The AFL’s move into western Sydney was perhaps the biggest gamble the game had yet taken. Folau’s recruitment was about selling the game there. So can it be said to have worked in the short term or is it likely to impact over the longer haul?

In the here-and-now, a count of bums on seats for home games in Folau’s one and only season gives not a hint that he was a game-changer. For their nine debut-season games in Sydney, the Giants’ average crowd was barely 15,000. Take out the derbies against the locally popular Swans and that figure falls to just above 7000. There was absolutely no sign of a spike in attendances for games in which Folau took part.

As for the future, if there were young hearts and minds so impressionable as to be won by Folau’s brief time chasing the Sherrin, you’d wonder whether they are likely to be made of true-believer stuff.

Beyond this is the ethic of the undertaking in the first place.

An athlete has given up two years of his limited life in the sport in which he has a gift. Folau will be 24 years old at the start of the next rugby league season; the years 22 and 23 were lost. Yes, he made his own decision, but he was bought.

This coup was always too smart by half and, in the end, got what it deserved.

Of course, now the likelihood is that the Giants will snare Kurt Tippett and the departure of Folau will be considered timely.

Stand by for the back-room operators to once again be hailed as masterminds.

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THE leader of an Islamic group at the centre of anti-terror raids has returned from overseas to resume his hardline preaching in Melbourne.
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Harun Mehicevic, also known as Abu Talha, returned from Bosnia late last month and is again extolling the virtues of jihad at the Al-Furqan Islamic Information Centre in Springvale South.

The Australian Federal Police raided the centre and Mr Mehicevic’s home in September during an operation that focused on 12 properties, most of them in Melbourne’s south-east. Mr Mehicevic was in Bosnia at the time.

As a result of the raids, Adnan Karabegovic, 23, was charged with four counts of collecting documents in connection with the preparation of a terrorist act. The maximum penalty for the offence is 15 years’ jail.

The raids led to the seizure of items including a computer memory stick containing ”violent extremist materials”, as well as imitation firearms and registered guns.

Speaking from the driveway of a flat in Springvale South, Mr Mehicevic said he had been silent since the raids because he felt nothing could be gained from speaking while the Al-Furqan centre was being criticised.

”With all the hype of raids and everything, you get no benefit of talking,” he said. ”You wait for everything to settle down.”

Mr Mehicevic said he was angry that he had been described as the leader of a religious cult, but would wait until after the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, which was held on the last weekend in October, before deciding whether to discuss the raids in detail. He wrote in an email that the centre had ”decided to keep identical line related to media. Without engagement at all.”

Mr Mehicevic is a controversial figure within the Muslim community. The imam of the nearby Bosnian mosque in Noble Park, Ibrahim Omerdic, said Mehicevic had led a group of ”radical followers” away from the Noble Park mosque about 10 years ago.

Another community source who also spoke of Mr Mehicevic soon after the raids said he was not well respected in Melbourne’s Islamic community.

Mr Mehicevic said reports about his past and a protest outside the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne had made him wary of the media. He said some aspects of his history had been reported accurately, but he would not elaborate. Fairfax reported after the raids that sources said he had come to Australia from Bosnia as a young adult in the mid-1990s, and that he had a Pakistani-born wife and six children. Mr Mehicevic studied arts at Deakin University and possibly gained a diploma in teaching.

He turned to a conservative form of Islam known as Salafism, became a follower of hardline Melbourne cleric Sheikh Mohammed Omran, and associated with Abdul Nacer Benbrika, who is serving 15-years’ jail for planning a terrorist attack in Melbourne in 2005. When Benbrika split from Omran, Mr Mehicevic remained loyal to the senior cleric.

He said any interview to be conducted after Eid al-Adha would need to be conducted on his terms. ”Whatever we say to you is to be recorded and made to fit what we have said.”

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That’s a big ‘un: Mario Ceniccola (left) and Matt Cini relish the bay’s piscine pleasures. Anglers think the fishery is healthier than ever.
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WITH his fishing rod bending so sharply it resembles a giant fishing hook, Mario Ceniccola grips the handle tightly with one hand, winds up the reel with his other hand and gradually lowers the tip of the rod to the water.

Ten months ago the 62-year-old survived a heart attack; and this morning that organ is getting a workout as the enthusiastic fisherman tries to land his first fish for the day. Clearly it is a big one, undoubtedly a snapper – and certainly the other anglers on the boat wish it was on their line.

With a contest in its early stages and the fish still deep in Port Phillip Bay’s calm waters, Mr Ceniccola urges it to co-operate. ”Slowly come to papa, slowly come to papa,” he says, in a soothing but straining voice.

Mr Ceniccola knows it is best to be patient. After about five minutes his patience is rewarded: the snapper has been brought to within a few centimetres of the surface, its pink and silver colours glistening in the early morning light.

The boat’s skipper, Matt Cini, likes what he sees. ”This is a big fish, this is a very big fish, Mario,” he says, net in hand. He dips it in the water, collects the snapper and lifts it on board. Mr Cini, owner of Reel Time Fishing Charters, estimates it weighs about 6.5 or 7 kilograms. ”Look how fat he is, he’s like a footy,” he says excitedly.

”That’s a barrel, mate, that’s a photo fish – you don’t catch them every day,” he says.

Mr Cini is right, on both counts. The snapper weighs in at 6.5 kilograms, a hefty size a keen angler would not catch in Port Phillip Bay every day, though nowadays it seems anglers chasing snapper have a better chance than just a few years ago.

Fishermen say the bay’s snapper fishery is as healthy as they have ever seen. The unofficial starting date for the snapper season is October 1, but November, says Mr Cini, is the best month. It is also the month for fishing competitions, including the Tea Tree Snapper Fishing competition, held over the past two days.

Mr Cini, who runs charters from Carrum, says Mr Ceniccola’s fish is the biggest caught by one of his customers so far this season. And for Mr Ceniccola it is a personal best. ”I have never caught one that big either, three kilos is my biggest,” he says, after a few back slaps and the odd high-five.

It is a tick past 7am and the golden, pink and mauve colours that stretched over the bay at sunrise have been replaced by bright but gentle sunshine. A few kilometres away residents of Melbourne’s suburbs are into their morning routine: having breakfast, a shower, getting dressed, or travelling to work.

But on Port Phillip Bay it is another world. There are enough people on fishing boats to populate an entire suburb. Mr Cini estimates that more than 300 boats launched at Carrum this morning, and the procession of vehicles towing trailers to the ramps at 4.50am vindicate his estimate.

The snapper fishery has improved markedly over the past two decades, Mr Cini says. In the mid-1990s, when he was learning how to fish with his uncle, snapper fishing trips were not very productive. ”I used to work all weekend to catch two fish, to catch two snapper. And the fishery has just become so healthy now,” he says.

He attributes the improvement to two main things: the cessation of scallop dredging in 1997 and efforts to protect the Yarra and bay from pollution. ”The [snapper] schools that we find now can be up to a couple of hundred metres long and 10 or 20 metres wide. And anywhere from two metres to six metres high, of just solid fish,” he says.

Veteran bay angler Ian Jones, from Beaumaris, says the bay’s snapper fishery is in better health today than he has seen. ”I think that the snapper fishery now is world class, it will continue to be world class and it’s absolutely outstanding compared with what it used to be. It’s much easier to catch fish – I don’t think it’s all [because of] technology – I think it’s a lot to do with the way the fisheries are managed,” he says.

Back on the boat, Mr Ceniccola has hooked another good fish. ”Holy Moses, Abraham, give me a hand,” he says, reeling steadily. It sounds like a plea for help, but it’s clear he’s enjoying himself.

”This leaves sex for dead,” he adds.

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