Monthly Archives: January 2019

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Big Money makes it a Ramornie double for Robert Thompson

Lucky 4000-and-something: legendary bush hoop Robert Thompson added another Ramornie Handicap to his resume on Wednesday with Big Money. Photo: Dean OslandBig Money, only a four-day old foal when his mother died of a snake bite protecting her progeny, did what Lyn’s Money couldn’t after creating history for champion jockey Robert Thompson in Grafton’s Ramornie Handicap.

The Scone-based Big Money gifted 56-year-old Thompson back-to-back Ramornie wins on Wednesday, etching his name alongside the late Cecil Kelly as the only other hoop to win the time-honoured feature in consecutive years twice.

But it is amazing the remarkably consistent Big Money, which hasn’t finished outside the top two in 11 career starts, is even around to carry on his mother’s legacy considering the trauma he endured as a foal.

“She died of a snake bite four days after he was born,” winning trainer Rod Northam recalled of Lyn’s Money, who he also trained while she raced on the track. “She won nine races and actually ran in the Ramornie, but struck a wet track and finished mid-field.”

Big Money was actually raised by a foster mother at owner-breeder Phil Gunter’s property.

“I won a couple in Sydney on her and she’s actually smaller than him,” Thompson said referring to the pint-sized Big Money.

But what he lacks in size he certainly makes up for in ticker after Thompson angled off the fence turning for home and quickly rushed past his rivals to surge away with the time-honoured listed race.

Tegan Harrison, who had a Grafton homecoming to remember on Royal Scribe in the Guineas, gave Big Money something to catch aboard Rocky King. But the $2.40 favourite eased past the leader to score by three-quarters of a length.

Northam, who combined with Thompson to win the South Grafton Cup with Myamira earlier in the carnival, even hinted at Perth’s group 1 Winterbottom Stakes as a long-term plan for Big Money.

“He’ll have to come back in the late spring and race really well,” Northam said. “If he’s up to it we’d take him across. He’d be the best horse I’ve had, for sure, and he’s untapped.

“[Robert’s] helped my career so much and he’s just a genuine bloke. And you know the horse is going to come back in one piece. If something goes wrong during the race you know he’s not going to kill the horse. He’s done some really amazing things for these horses over the years.”

Harrison thought she might have had enough petrol in the tank to thwart the challenge of Big Money, was left to lament the early work Rocky King ($14.70) was forced to do to find the lead.

“They were actually not going to come here after last start and I begged [trainer] Tom [Bourke] to come,” she said. “His run first-up was terrific and I was confident he could beat Big Money if he got it easy enough early and that’s pretty much how it panned out, but we had to work that little bit more early.”

Sydney visitor Territory ($7.70) charged home from the tail to finish third.

Meanwhile, Con Karakatsanis’ Klisstra will be free to start on Thursday after he was temporarily dragged into a fresh tubing drama at Grafton.

Karakatsanis, who has only recently returned from a nine-month ban after being found guilty of conspiring to tube his star sprinter Howmuchdoyouloveme before the Salinger Stakes on Victoria Derby Day in 2012, again fronted stewards at Grafton on Wednesday.

Stipes caught Karakatsanis with tubing equipment at the Grafton stables of Mark Lynch on Wednesday morning, but later testing confirmed Klisstra hadn’t been treated.

“Shortly after 8am our Northern Rivers-based stewards found Con Karakatsanis with tubing equipment in his stables,” Racing NSW’s deputy chief steward Greg Rudolph said.

“He stated the process of post-race gallop tubing was within his normal stable practices. [Results have] come back at normal levels and consistent with the evidence Klisstra wasn’t treated. She’s clear to race as usual and business as usual.”

Don’t go there: the destinations you need to avoid

Every day Australians jet off to where they could be killed, imprisoned, kidnapped, robbed or fall victim to other harm. But what are the most dangerous places on the planet and which destinations should be off your travel plans?

Hardly a day passes without a conflict breaking out in various parts of the globe. The focus right now is on Syria, Egypt and the Ukraine, but Central Africa and Iraq are other conflict zones where disputes between different ethnic and religious groups have escalated into all-out war.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) warns against travel to Egypt, following the imprisonment of an Australian journalist, citing “current instability”.

Etihad has suspended flights to Peshawar in Pakistan due to an ongoing security risk.

Danger junkies

Danger doesn’t always stop intrepid travellers though. For some it’s an added attraction.

Terrorism and civil war haven’t stopped certain tour operators from promoting travel to areas officially deemed off limits. Take Kashmir, for example. For some, it’s a Shangri-La – for others, a contentious conflict area between India and Pakistan.

Afghanistan has never been high on travel wish lists, but that has not put some operators off conducting tours. Among them is Untamed Borders and Wild Frontiers, both operating out of London.

For a brave breed of travellers, only the world’s most unstable regions will do. Warzone Tours caters to this obsession – even the website of this US travel operator features explosions and a gun battle.

Iran, a favourite with Traveller’s own Ben Groundwater who said he felt extremely safe there, is another country on DFAT’s ”reconsider your need to travel” list. However, tours are still on offer from Intrepid, G Adventures and others, along with Egypt.

Intrepid’s Amanda Linardon said destinations like Iran are beckoning adventurous travellers.

“We may go to places perceived as no-go zones, such as Iran, that are not really dangerous,” she said.

“If a situation becomes volatile, we will cancel or reroute tours in line with travel warnings and advice on the ground.”

Australia’s leading adventure travel operators – Intrepid, Peregrine and Geckos Adventures – all report an increase in demand for countries once considered dangerous that are slowly shaking off their bad reputations. Small group tours in Iran, Colombia, Central America, West Africa, Ethiopia and Georgia have recently surged in popularity.

“Algeria has the potential to be the next Sri Lanka or Burma – countries that were also off-limits to most travellers and where tourism is now booming,” says Linardon.

Don’t go there

For most of us, the daily grind of war automatically catapults some places right to the top of the Do Not Travel list. Baghdad has been unstable since the US invasion. Until recently, Somalia’s capital Mogadishu was considered the world’s most dangerous city. Al-Shabab militants still stage random attacks there. No amount of US intervention and troops on the ground has made Afghanistan and its capital Kabul, any safer – on the contrary, it’s still one of the world’s most dangerous spots.

Thailand – in particular Bangkok – was something of a no-go zone earlier this year until a May 22 military coup put an end to seven months of street protests. In mid-2012, an Australian woman was killed in a bag snatch in Phuket. Around 50 Australians die every year in Phuket due to motorcycle accidents, drugs, drink spiking or natural causes. These events only put a minor dent in the numbers of fun-seeking Australians heading there. Though 122 Australians died in Thailand in 2013, it remains as popular as ever. DFAT advises to ‘Exercise a High Degree of Caution’ due to the possibility of civil unrest and threat of terrorist attack, including Bangkok and Phuket.

Dicing with death

Latin America is on most tour brochures, despite being one of the places you’re most likely to get murdered; 40 per cent of the world’s murders occur in this region.

According to one study, 40 of the 50 most dangerous cities are Latin American, including a number in Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Venezuela, Honduras and Mexico; such as popular Chihuahua. Ciudad Juarez in Mexico is one of the most violent places outside of a war zone.

Brazil just staged the World Cup, but you’re advised to exercise a high degree of caution there because of its high levels of serious crime, including muggings, armed robbery, express kidnappings and carjackings, common particularly in major cities like Rio.

Violence can occur between gangs and drug cartels sporadically, so it’s not a region you want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Not that you need to be in Latin America for that to happen.

Surprisingly risky

Anywhere on the planet can be just as dangerous, as shown by the random deaths of Australians overseas in what are normally considered safe destinations.

Random shootings are reasonably commonplace in the good old gun toting US of A. Just last week An Australian girl was shot in the face during a New Orleans gun streetfight.

Another Australian, college baseballer Christopher Lane was shot dead in August last year in Oklahoma in a random drive-by shooting by teenagers on a “killing spree”.

A number of US cities also make the top 50 most dangerous cities list, led by New Orleans at 17th, along with Detroit, St Louis, Baltimore and Oakland.

Who knew that Mumbai would “explode” in 2011? An underlying threat lurks in Sri Lanka, despite recently making its way back onto travel itineraries. Even the Philippine island of Mindanao was off-limits due to Muslim insurgency activity, until recently.

Something as simple as a bag theft, taking part in an extreme sport or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time can place tourists at risk.

A number of tourists died river tubing in Vang Vieng until Laos authorities moved in and closed down the river bars in late 2012.

At one time New York was considered a crime risk. Similarly Italy, where bag snatching was once rife. Violence, muggings and robberies are still commonplace in Capetown and Durban in South Africa.

Kidnapping hot-spots

There is an ongoing threat of kidnapping in many parts of the world. Australian woman, Fiona Wilde, was kidnapped while visiting north-eastern Ecuador bordering Colombia and Peru.

DFAT’s travel advisories specifically warn Australians of kidnapping threats (for ransom, political reasons or by pirates) in a staggering 35 countries including: Colombia, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Kenya, Peru, Pakistan, Tunisia, and the Philippines as well as the Indian Ocean, particularly around Somalia.

In South America, terrorist groups kidnap for ransom. Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world, often perpetrated by groups such as the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in rural areas. Foreigners, including children, have been kidnapped and murdered.

Humanitarian workers and tourists in Kenya have also been kidnapped by militants and held in Somalia.

A number of foreign nationals have been kidnapped In Syria. Ongoing conflict puts the whole of Syria, including Palmyra and Damascus with its amazing bazaar and crusader castle, off bounds.

A conscience choice 

Sometimes it’s not danger so much as conscience that dictates where we travel. Some destinations are deemed not only dangerous but also questionable. There are calls to boycott travel to Egypt because of the imprisonment of an Australian journalist. Many editors will no longer publish stories on the country; others will stay away to register their objection.

It was only in 2012 that Burma came back strongly as a mainstream travel destination after years languishing on travel editor’s blacklists. This year The European Council on Tourism and Trade will hand Burma the “World Best Tourist Destination Award” for 2014.

Last week in this paper, former minister Peter Reith called for Australians to stop going to Egypt. “Apart from anything else, the security situation in Egypt is only going to get worse as the government killings promote retaliation….So Aussies should not go to Egypt because it’s not safe”.

The World Press Freedom index highlights other countries that have journalists locked up, including: North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, Yemen, Laos, Brazil, India, Russia, Myanmar, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Mali, Oman, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan and Malaysia. According to the Guardian the top three countries with journalists in jail are Turkey, Iran and China. Should we boycott these too?

Reconsider the risk

Some places are probably best avoided altogether.

DFAT, through its Smartraveller website issues a stern DO NOT TRAVEL warning for 11 countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Niger, Mali, Chad and Central African Republic.

Reconsider Your Need To Travel is the next highest warning level (Egypt, Ukraine and Iran are on it) followed by Exercise A High Degree of Caution. Indonesia (including Bali) is on that list, along with Thailand.  So surprisingly, is Costa Rica, a current favourite of the eco-travel set.

Just watch an episode of What Really Happens In Bali to see why Bali is dangerous. One Australian dies every nine days in Bali from incidents including drink spiking, violent crime, bike accidents and other fatalities.

Despite its safe reputation, even Australia can provide a “deadly” holiday with more than a few incidents of tourists succumbing to accidents. In comparison, however, it is probably a safe bet.

Prince George learnt how to walk in Australia, says Vanity Fair

A new magazine feature suggests Prince George may have started walking in Australia. Photo: Kate GeraghtyPrince George’s first major magazine cover story has a distinctly Australian feel.

On the eve of his first birthday, the young prince appears on the cover of the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair with his parents Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.

The cover shot is of the family enjoying the bilby enclosure at Taronga Zoo back in April, while the feature, written by the Daily Mail’s royal correspondent Katie Nicholl, hints the third in line to the throne may have taken his first steps on Australian soil.

According to a preview of the story published on Tuesday, Prince George learned to ”cruise” during the family’s official tour of New Zealand and Australia, and was reportedly shuffling along while holding onto furniture inside Admiralty House and Government House in Canberra.

The feature also details his ”colicky beginnings” and outlines how it wasn’t until the baby was introduced to solid foods that he began sleeping through the night.

”For the first few months the prince cried loudly and frequently, and he was not sleeping through the night. Nanny Jessie Webb tried hard to get him into a routine, but the baby prince, who was still breastfeeding, was permanently hungry,” Nicholl writes.

News of the baby being a handful for the royal couple is nothing new. During an interview with CNN just weeks into fatherhood in August last year, Prince William called his newborn son ”a rascal”.

”He’s growing quite quickly, actually. But he’s a little fighter. He wriggles around quite a lot and he doesn’t want to go to sleep that much,” he said.

After Prince George began sleeping regularly earlier this year, Ms Webb, who was also Prince William’s nanny, reportedly told the couple she was unable to accompany the family on their tour to Australia and New Zealand. The Duchess then hired a new nanny who was recommended by a friend.

According to Vanity Fair, to ensure she was up to the task, prospective carer Maria Teresa Turrion Borallo ”spent a week bonding with George at Kate’s family home in March under the watchful eyes of the Middleton grandparents, while Will and Kate jetted off to the Maldives for a second honeymoon”.

Kensington Palace are yet to reveal if there are any plans to celebrate Prince George’s upcoming first birthday.

Prince William marked his special day back in 1983 by playing with his favourite blue plastic whale without his parents as Princess Diana and Prince Charles were touring Canada at the time.

Baby elephants captured, mistreated, to supply Thailand’s tourism industry

An elephant, purported to  have come from Myanmar, confiscated from the illegal trade in Thailand,. Photo: TRAFFIC Baby elephants are a tourist attraction in Thailand. Photo: TRAFFIC

A baby elephant caught in a pit trap in Myanmar. Photo: TRAFFIC

An elephant camp in Chiang Mai province, Thailand, that is home to seven illegally caught elephants. Photo: TRAFFIC

A wild baby elephant at a holding camp on the Thai/Myanmar border. Photo: TRAFFIC

Bangkok: Baby elephants are being illegally captured in horrific conditions to supply Thailand’s lucrative tourism industry, prompting calls for Thai authorities to tighten animal trafficking laws.

Before reaching tourist centres, juvenile elephants caught in neighbouring Myanmar are being subjected to torture rituals to “break” their spirit ahead of training to entertain tourists, according to a new report.

After being smuggled across the border into Thailand, young elephants are paired with surrogate mothers that are forced to accept them, according to the report by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

“The female may refuse to accept the calf, or vice versa, requiring the animals to be tethered together using a rope or chain,” the report said.

Conservationists said that even as tourists clambered atop elephants at Thai camps or hotels, few of them had any understanding of the terrible journey the elephants may have taken to get there.

Poachers In Myanmar’s jungle use domesticated elephants to corral wild elephants into pit traps, the report said.

“Mothers and female minders are often extremely protective of wild infants they are guarding, making it difficult for the poachers to capture them,” it said. “Using automatic weapons, the protective members of the herd can be easily killed and the infants removed … the body parts from the slain individuals can then also be sold for profit.”

According to researchers, the rituals to break the young elephants include starvation, chaining and savage beatings.

A two-year investigation by TRAFFIC into Thailand’s live elephant trade provides details of between 79 and 81 illegally captured wild elephants that were sold in Thailand for up to $US30,000 between 2011 and 2013.

“The actual trade could be very well higher than this, especially considering the clandestine nature of the business,” the report said.

TRAFFIC said the capture of elephants in Myanmar and the number of animals slaughtered by poachers threatened the future survival of the country’s 4000 to 5000 Asian elephants.

The report says the poaching of wild elephants in both Myanmar and Thailand is almost exclusively due to the elephant tourism industry.

TRAFFIC identified 108 tourist camps, government elephant facilities and hotels in Thailand where there were 1565 elephants.

“There is strong argument to consider either developing robust systems that prevent poaching and illegal trade or phasing out elephant tourism in Thailand altogether as a mechanism for safeguarding the wild populations of an already endangered species,” the report said.

Thai authorities announced a clampdown against the illegal elephant trade in 2012 after environmentalist Edwin Wiek warned that baby elephants were being taken out of the jungle at any cost. A video sponsored by Mr Wiek’s Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand showing the mistreatment of elephants went viral on the internet.

But under a myriad of Thai laws and regulations, only female domesticated elephants are required to be registered with the government and then only when a calf turns eight. Owners are not asked to prove an animal was born in captivity.

“There are gaping holes in the current legislation which do little to deter unscrupulous operators passing off wild-caught young animals as being of captive origin and falsifying birth and ownership documentation,” said Joanna Cary-Elwes, campaign manager for Elephant Family UK, an organisation that sponsored the TRAFFIC investigation.

TRAFFIC recommends urgent reforms so wild and domesticated elephants are governed under one law and that authorities use microchips and DNA tests to register them.

The report said existing penalties were “woefully insufficient” to act as a deterrent to elephant traffickers.

There are estimated to be between 40,000 and 50,000 Asian elephants in 13 countries which the International Union for Conservation and Nature considers endangered.

Myanmar’s government acknowledged after the report’s release that elephants were being illegally traded across the border into Thailand, but said smugglers were well organised and that no arrests had been made.

Thai authorities have not yet responded publicly to the report.

25 killed as Israel prepares for ground assault

Jerusalem: Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza, launching air and naval strikes up and down the besieged coastal strip that medical officials say killed 25 and wounded more than 140, while militants from Gaza fired a barrage of rockets at cities in Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Gaza’s hospitals were struggling to cope with the flow of seriously injured people, doctors said, with video footage showing Palestinians desperately digging through the rubble of collapsed apartment blocks searching for survivors as ambulance sirens wailed in the distance.

Israel vowed to continue its bombardment and on Tuesday the government of Benjamin Netanyahu approved the call-up of an extra 40,000 reservists in preparation for a possible ground assault.

The IDF said militants from Gaza launched a barrage of more than 100 rockets on Tuesday night, with one long-range missile reaching as far as 99 kilometres into Israel. Some were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile system, others landed in fields or unpopulated areas.

There were no reports of casualties although the attacks sent terrified Israelis running for bomb shelters, with air raid sirens sounding in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv late on Tuesday.

Israeli forces say they prevented an attack by armed Palestinians who crossed from Gaza into Israel, killing five militants in the incident.

The IDF says it had hit “dozens of terror sites across the Gaza Strip, including concealed rocket launchers, launching infrastructures, a weapon storage facility, training bases, terror tunnels’ shafts and further targets”.

But the pictures coming out of Gaza told another story – that of civilians, including at least eight children according to Defence of Children International, dying along with the militants.

“We are preparing for a battle against Hamas which will not end within a few days,” Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said.

It is the heaviest fighting between Israel’s powerful military and militants in Gaza since the eight-day war in November 2012 in which 167 Palestinians, including 87 civilians, and four Israelis were killed.

Tensions  escalated sharply last week after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who had been kidnapped in the occupied West Bank were found, and a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death in what police believe was a revenge attack.

Washington condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza, while the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned both the “indiscriminate fire into Israel by militant groups in the Gaza Strip” and the “growing number of civilian casualties, reportedly among them children, caused by Israeli retaliatory fire”. She called on Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza “to do their utmost to achieve an immediate ceasefire”.

Palestinian media reported that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and pledged to work on a ceasefire, although there are no signs that hostilities will end any time soon.

Israeli forces killed six children when a missile struck the home of alleged Hamas activist Odeh Ahmad Kaware in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, Defence of Children International reported.

The five families living in the building evacuated after an Israeli aerial drone fired a warning missile, however a number of neighbours gathered on the roof in an effort to prevent the bombing.

Despite their presence, an Israeli air strike levelled the building, killing seven people including the six children and injuring 28 others.

Others killed in the air raids included four Hamas members who died in Gaza City when their car was struck, including Mohammed Shaaban, a senior militant.

Mr Netanyahu said “Hamas bears full responsibility for any harm that comes to Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike”: “In recent days, Hamas terrorists have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel’s civilians. No other country lives under such a threat, and no country would accept such a threat.”

But some citizens in southern Israel begged their government to avoid further escalation, saying air strikes would only lead to more civilian deaths on both sides.

Julia Chaitin, who for 41 years has lived on Kibbutz Urim, 14 kilometres from the border with Gaza, described life as “insufferable and dangerous”.

“As a resident of the region, it is extremely important to me that people on both sides of the border will have peace and quiet and the real possibility to live lives of dignity without existential fear,” she wrote in a letter to the Israeli parliament this week.

Like many Israelis living close to the Gaza border, Ms Chaitan, who represents the Israeli non-governmental organisation Other Voice, hears both the Israeli air strikes on Gaza and the rockets fired on Israel from Gaza.

“It is all around me,” she said. “We have been trying to maintain contact with our friends in Gaza but it is difficult to keep communications going.”

On the other side of the border, Palestinians described the constant bombardment that shook buildings and shattered windows throughout Gaza – a 42-kilometre long strip that is under a sustained land, air and sea blockade from Israel that prevents most of Gaza’s 1.7 million population from leaving.

Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza closed for most of the last year, although it announced it would open the Rafah Crossing to allow Gazans critically injured in the Israeli attacks to reach medical help.

“There has been no respite, not even for one hour,” said Nasser, a student, speaking on the phone from his home in Gaza City. “They are hitting all over Gaza, there seems to be no area that’s been spared.”

“Shattered windows, terrified children, we are on the floor,” Dr Mona Qasim al-Farra said from her home near the Gaza Port.

“Right now it is Ramadan, the month of fasting, and an increasing number of families have difficulty to get basic food, survival is a constant fight. The military operation continues with threats of its expansion in the coming few days, and no news about any ceasefire.”

In a letter to the United Nations, Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour called on the UN Security Council to act against Israel’s bombardment.

“The intensification of Israel’s aggression against the 1.7 million Palestinians imprisoned in the Gaza Strip by Israel’s immoral blockade threatens to further destabilise the dangerous situation on the ground and fully ignite yet another round of deadly violence,” Dr Mansour wrote.