A Super Moon, down by the Swan Riverside.

Super Moon Monday 14th November 2016

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We (Ann and I) know there’ll be lots of superb photos taken  of the Super Moon with Perth City in the foreground and great shots taken in the country, so we thought we’d take a couple of photos in our local area. First we stood on the pedestrian bridge at Success Hill, then we wandered down to the shore of the Swan River beside the Guildford Bridge, just to see what we could get. As the Moon rose, as expected, it became too bright to properly photograph (without tripods and time!), but we were happy with what we managed to get over about an hour.

As I write this post (10.20pm), the Super Moon is, we are told, at it’s fullest and brightest, we can see it overhead from our north facing balconey, however clouds have formed and that big old sivler Moon, just peaks out now and then, although there is a silver glow seemingly across the sky. Nature is so beautiful.


Hardy Hits the Big 70!


Hardy's 70th

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Great mate, fellow Kiwi Aucklander, Chris Hardy hit the big 70 this week, kicking off celebrations with a Boys Own lunch at Royal Perth Yacht Club, followed by a smokey night at Devlin’s Cigar Bar in Subiaco.

Hardy, now enjoying glorious retirement, is of course one of Perth’s best-known Bon Vivants, in days past, an architect of renown, past Commodore of Royal Perth Yacht Club – he can be seen in the wonderful Australia 11 video clip with Bob Hawke in that jacket. He also spent penance – sorry – time, as a Perth City Councillor in the days of the Nattrass reign, indeed the venerable Peter may be seen in some pictures

I didn’t manage to get a good shot of Tim (Chris’s son) – apologies, but later at Devlins, when his daughter Caroline turned up with the new bub, I got a couple of reasonable pics of granddad, Caroline and bub.

And yes, the ladies turned up in force at Devlins, demanding to know why lunch was a Boys Own affair – easy ladies, so we could all look at the gorgeous French universities sailing team!

And more apologies for the lack of pics of the ladies, but I had to leave and head home to my wife Ann, who’d flown in from Germany early in the afternoon – I’d pushed my luck as far as I dared!


Airbnb … A Bit to Air


None of us can be in any doubt the internet has changed our world forever, the ability for anyone with access to the internet to instantly communicate has both despotic and democratic governments floundering as they struggle for ways to limit the flow of information, or, as demonstrated by the Australian census fiasco, even gather information. Suddenly everyone has a voice. Where once Joe Public could only be heard through a letter to the editor, or talk-back radio, these days if you’ve got something to say, you can put it out to the world on platforms such as Facebook, or Twitter, or indeed a Blog such as this and these mediums can be very powerful tools. If anyone despairs of actually talking to a company representative about an issue or complaint, don’t bother using their website complaint forms, try Tweeting your complaint, you’ll hear from a company representative within minutes as they genuinely attempt to resolve the issue – read shut you down!, or alternatively, ‘Like’ the company Facebook page, then post your (legitimate!) complaint, you’ll be astounded at the speed and reaction. There’s a social downside, where a newspaper editor or radio producer can edit, cut off or ignore the virulent, the vicious, or the insane, there’s seemingly no way to prevent these same trolls, under the protective cover of anonymity, from freely lashing out at anyone anytime. However perhaps the biggest effect of the internet, has been on sales methodology – whether you’re flogging vacuum cleaners, cars, houses, or jobs, the world wide web has the reach traditional forms of media, such as newspapers, can only dream of, as they watch their advertising income dwindle to death.  You can research and find the car, the house, the holiday, the airline you want, anything, without leaving your chair at home.

Need a cab? Tap your Uber app on your mobile computer (phone) and you can even see where available cars are, along with the driver’s name, phone number and car registration. It’s so convenient, such a brilliant concept, that it’s changed the taxi industry forever, perhaps decimated would be a better choice of word. Although Uber is a Dutch company, for whatever reasons, the concept was developed by a couple of Americans and they’ve built the world’s biggest taxi company without owning a single vehicle, or even having financial responsibility for those vehicles, hell they’ve even appropriated the word Uber from their next door neighbours!

Around the same time, (2008 / 2009), another couple of Americans who couldn’t afford overnight accommodation, came up with the Airbnb concept and the parallels with Uber are astounding – Airbnb is becoming the accommodation solution of choice for travellers around the world, yet Airbnb own no accommodation and have no financial risk in terms of bricks and mortar, they have a website where private home or apartment owners can list their property for rent, whether it’s an overnight stay or longer. And just like Uber, they’ve been operating on the fringes of legality, driving governments to distraction.

As any traveller will tell you, accommodation cost is the biggest killer of any holiday, or trip, far outweighing the cost of flights – if you live in Australia, you fly return to Europe for $1,600.00, which roughly equates to about four night’s accommodation in a reasonable hotel. Most of us have stayed with relatives of friends when travelling and house swapping has long been an option for some people, not to mention the time-honoured old hippy method of collapsing on somebody’s couch – these days appropriately named Couch Surfing and of course, all organised on the web. So an idea to let people advertise their house or apartment for short term lease and make some extra cash (once again the Uber parallel) was at once both brilliant and a no-brainer.

We started using Airbnb four or five years ago, in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, with great success, even making friends with some owners. All homes have quirks or faults, or maybe a cat that needs feeding and owners would leave a written list of where the cat food was, or how to run the hi fi, what public transport there was, where local shopping centres were and great places to visit etc. It was fun, a lot cheaper than hotels and in way, you felt like a local. We reached a point where we couldn’t imagine returning to using hotels. But sadly, things have changed.

Airbnb appears to have no control systems in place to establish the veracity of what is being offered, sure they offer a genuine resolution system, but, if you’ve arrived in a strange city and found yourself at a place that’s not as advertised, or is not in a suitable condition to use, the reality is you’re in trouble. At least with a hotel, you can hot foot it straight down to reception and get the matter sorted very quickly, with Airbnb, resolution at best will mean getting your money back, at some point! Meanwhile, you either put up with what you find, or pay out more money to stay at a hotel. Our recent experiences indicate some blatant fraudulent advertising and an increasing number of places needing urgent maintenance. Airbnb does not appear to be imposing standards or conducting inspections of advertised properties. I’ve reached the conclusion the travelling consumer is of no importance to Airbnb, other than a source of income.

I am going to write about three recent experiences to illustrate the current risk of renting through Airbnb.

Sydney  (Australia) Feb 2015:  We rented a Barangaroo apartment for two days, it looked fabulous on the website, but when we got there, although the apartment was relatively new, we found the bed was a mattress on the floor and there were no tables or chairs, just a sofa and from memory, the TV didn’t work. We contacted the owner, she apologised, giving some excuse re running out of time etc, telling us she’d like us to stay and if we would, she’d refund some money as an act of good faith. We agreed – it was too hard to move and she said she’d drop the money off. Of course, she never did and never answered any more phone calls.

Weimar (Germany) Dec 2015: This was a real eye opener, although the apartment was close to the old town square as promised, it was unfit for habitation, the second bedroom was actually the lounge, the fridge didn’t work, there were bare electrical wires hanging down in every room and the plug socket in the bathroom actually came out of the wall, exposing bare wires when  you inserted a hair dryer or shaver. Worse was to come, the double bed collapsed during the night. When we removed the mattress, we found broken plastic slats had been broken previously and just inserted back in as best they would fit. We contacted the owner who told us a new fridge was on the way, she’d organised for the electrical work and, expressing surprise at the bed condition, she agreed to have it looked at. As with the Sydney owner, during our four day stay, we neither saw nor heard from her again. A few months later, my wife noticed on the Airbnb site that other people were complaining about the broken bed and the other issues. The lying bitch had no intention of fixing anything and Airbnb were obviously quite happy to let the situation continue.

Amsterdam (Netherlands) Aug 2016: The apartment was advertised as two bedrooms, with a courtyard and ample storage for clothes etc. We were a touch concerned, as in the two days before we were due to arrive, my wife had tried several times to get instructions for key handover etc, but the only responses she got, were strangely generic – “Hi, hope you’ll have a great time, Sam.” When we arrived at the pre-appointed time, it was pouring with rain and there was nobody to greet us. After about five minutes an apartment owner from the same block took pity on us and let us into the foyer, though by now we were soaking wet, however she was concerned about the cat – apparently it had gone missing after the previous people had stayed at the apartment we were renting. Then 15 minutes later, a nice young guy turned up with the keys. Apparently he wasn’t Sam and he had no idea where the apartment was in the complex, I had to tell him! He let us in, apologising for his lack of knowledge, explaining that his job was to deliver keys, which puzzled us. Anyhow, off he scooted.

Then we discovered that although it was a two bedroom apartment, the second bedroom was locked and the door handle had been removed! The backdoor to the courtyard was locked with no key to be found and the one available wardrobe was full of clothes. We rang ‘Sam.’ He at first said it was raining so we wouldn’t need the courtyard!  He did however give the impression of being shocked re the second bedroom told us to wait and he’d come round as soon as possible. By now we’d wasted an hour and a half. Half an hour later, another nice young bloke turned up, his name wasn’t Sam either. We showed him the Airbnb website pics and description of the place and the locked second bedroom door etc. He’d never seen the apartment either and no idea what to do. By now, I had become very angry, we explained to him that my wife’s mother was travelling with us, she was a smoker, which is why we’d specifically taken an apartment with a courtyard. He admitted there was nothing he could do about the second bedroom and we all searched for a backdoor key. I eventually tried a key that was in the main bedroom window lock and it worked. I told him it wasn’t satisfactory, however my mother in law was willing to sleep in the couch in the lounge, but we’d want the fee reduced by 100 euros to match the going price of one bedroom apartments. He said he’d have to ring his boss. It turned out he worked for what was basically a real estate company looking after Airbnb rentals, he had no idea who owned the apartment or where to even contact them. The company agreed to the discount and by now, some three hours lost and still wet, we resignedly agreed to stay. Off went whatever his name was, apologising profusely. Then we discovered the bare wires for the dining room table lights and later that the plugs for both the spa bath and the washbasin were broken.

I Tweeted my displeasure to Airbnb and they came back almost instantly asking for the  booking number etc. I told them that although it was false advertising, fraudulent really, we’d decided it was just too hard to find another place at that point in time and that the agents had agreed to a refund, so we’d accept the situation. As I write this, some five days later, there is no sign of the refund and some other poor sucker has posted a complaint on Airbnb about the fraudulent two bedroom claim. However the description of the place has been changed from two bedrooms to one.

Sadly Airbnb has changed from what was a great concept, to a “Come in suckers!” rip off of genuine travellers. Our experience is they are letting owners get away with shoddy, badly maintained apartments and let’s be brutally honest, fraudulent advertising. There are obviously no checks and balances, worse, real estate agents have got involved, as they can see a quick buck and real estate agents have never had any interest in tenants or renters. When you combine those factors with fraudulent, lying owners, purposely letting out substandard dwellings to make a quick buck, suddenly hotels look very attractive.

Cheap Flix … Bus


I was for many years, a coach driver and tour guide based in Western Australia, including periods as a Greyhound and Bus Australia express coach driver, and I still do the occasional coach tour as a driver / guide, so when the opportunity came up to make a quick return trip to Bremen (from Bielefeld in Germany), I was very interested to see what the Flixbus operation was like.

Flixbus commenced operations in 2013 as a low cost intercity and country (it operates in 16 countries across Europe) express coach service. Offering a considerably cheaper fare structure than rail, or air, it has to be considered an outstanding success, having reached the point where it is taking over competitors.

The passenger mix would appear to be the classic backpackers from all over the world and Eastern European migrant peoples. The fare for the 185km one way trip was just E9.00 compared to E39 for the train, so it’s easy to see why people on low incomes or travel budgets are attracted to the service.

Booking online proved similar to booking a train or plane, print out your own ticket, or save it on your phone and they do send you update phone messages if there is some sort of delay, which segues into our first complaint. They sent a confirming message stating due to roadworks the departure time was slightly delayed and the departure time was now 7.05am (a Sunday morning). Fine. But, when we got to the terminal – well – street side, opposite the station, there was no bus. With no customer service representative in sight, my wife did her best to try and reach somebody, eventually getting a message to say the departure time was +60 minutes of the printed departure time and that information was printed on the ticket. We looked and sure enough it was, in small orange print. But why a day later, send a confirming text message stating the departure time was now 7.05am when it was actually 8.05am? To be fair, when I Tweeted my annoyance, whoever was watching Twitter from Flixbus, did after, three Tweets, see the point.

The bus arrived. Now top marks to Flixbus for their coaches, most of the fleet appears to be Setras (part of the Daimler Benz Group), Australians would remember Deluxe Coachlines used to run Kässbohrer Setras across Australia, apparently Setra dropped their founder’s name (Kässbohrer), as English speaking people found it too hard to pronounce. As drivers, we had great respect for them in Australia. The coach was obviously very new, clean, stylish and comfortable, with double USB charger connections for phones and laptops in one of each of the double seat configuration. There is supposed to be free Wi-Fi, but we couldn’t hook into to it on either journey. The seats have small picnic tables and there is a downstairs toilet, although the configuration of the above passenger seat and the small size of the toilet compartment means it’s a ludicrous size, also all the signs are in German, if you don’t read German, it could be very difficult to work out what button does what. Setra needs to look at the toilet compartment design. They run automatic gearboxes, presumably ZFs, they appeared to be an eight speed box (I stand to be corrected) with very smooth up and down shifts.

As we waited to board, it became obvious Flixbus was running as a budget coach line, the driver had to do everything and whether it was just the two drivers we had on our return trip I don’t know, however neither driver spoke English, which had the potential to make things difficult, especially as it seems coaches always run late. I would have thought English as a second language would have been a pre-requisite on an intercontinental express coach, given the pax mix. The drivers take very little interest in where passengers sit and so on a near full coach, there’s the inevitable situation of somebody and it’s usually always a girl, (nothing’s changed!), taking up two seats with her luggage and not wanting to move, Guys will always move, but women? No. As in trains and planes, you need to be aware that Muslim women will not want a male sitting next to them, so they and their families will move Heaven, Earth and Allah presumably, to ensure you aren’t anywhere near them. Without driver control, you may find you have to be blunt to find a seat.  We were down the back of the coach for the first trip, so I had no idea of the driver’s behaviour other than to say the trip was very smooth and comfortable.

As with a budget airline, once your journey is completed, you are on your own, the driver only has time for inspecting new passengers tickets, queries about bins and luggage are met with exasperated stares, shouting and pointing to a relevant bin and the driver doesn’t load or unload the bags, so there is utterly no control over the movement of your bag. At Osnabrück, the driver had to ask on the PA system, who owned the large blue suitcase on the footpath, it seemed somebody else had put the suitcase there in order to retrieve their own bag and just left it there! Luckily someone spotted it. So beware, you could easily lose your luggage and nobody would ever find it, there just isn’t any control.

Our return trip the next day commenced the same way as the previous trip – a text message telling us the coach was 40 minutes late. At the Bremen street pickup, again there were no staff on hand and some people had been waiting almost two hours for their coach. The problem is you can’t leave as you have no idea when the coach will eventually turn up and believe me, an express coach already running late, will not muck around, it will be a lightning fast stop, to try and make up time.

The first Flixbus to arrive should, in terms of timing, have been ours, however the sign on the window was for Hamburg, ours would read Munich, so we ignored it, but it was fascinating to observe the driver. He stayed talking on his mobile phone the entire time the coach was stopped, passenger queries were met with nods or head shaking, or pointing and shrugs. Interestingly, where the driver the day before had a hand-held machine to scan passenger tickets, this driver just looked at the tickets, then pointed at the door he wanted the passenger to enter through.

Ann (my German wife) was becoming worried, as by this time one Hamburg coach had already left and the one we were watching was getting ready to depart, she decided to ask the driver if he had any idea when the Munich coach would arrive. It’s a good job she did, he’d been so preoccupied on the phone and dealing with passengers, he’d forgotten to change the signs, the Hamburg bus was the Munich bus, but you needed to ask the driver to find out!  If like us and some other people, you relied on the bus signs, you’d still be there on the street.

He pointed us towards the middle door and we entered the coach, but finding seats was a real problem, once again single women were taking up double seats with no intention of moving, one even lied her box off saying the seat was taken, her friend was in the toilet. I’d had enough and strode up the aisle telling the driver, “There are no fucking seats mate!” Although he also spoke no English, he understood that! And moved his gear off the double seat at the front right. I knew that trick. All good, though he wasn’t happy.

Within a couple of minutes of getting out of the main CBD area, he began plugging his phone in and sorting out his earphones, all while negotiating busy city streets. Full marks for dexterity, but safety obviously didn’t factor in any way. He then continued to hold several phone calls over the next hour or so, often at 100km/h in pouring rain on the motorway. It seemed he was annoyed at the hours he was working – he’d been delayed the previous evening by a couple of hours had had to start early this day and then had to replace a windscreen wiper. I recognised all the hallmarks of a stressed, tired, overworked driver, just perfect for an express coach full of passengers on a busy motorway.

Now the guy, in his mid thirties, could drive, he knew where to place the coach on narrow streets and lanes, but then again, an automatic Setra with every modern feature, including an early warning ‘Too close’ buzzer, is not exactly difficult to pilot – I could have jumped into the driver’s seat in a second without ever having driven that model before and had no trouble, the GPS appeared to be preloaded with each stage of the journey. He had excellent control in pulling into and out of the heavy vehicle lane to let fast cars through.

As a professional driver, I just wasn’t comfortable with a tired, stressed, annoyed driver, constantly on the mobile phone. When we arrived at Bielefeld, as we got off, I was very relieved to see another driver take over.

In conclusion, I can see the game plan, Flixbus are pushing prices down so low, they are crippling any competition, a great business plan if you have deep enough pockets and they seem to have the cash to play the game, besides the customer is always price-conscious. However I am certain this is at the expense of driver conditions and any form of control and order mechanisms for passengers and luggage. It’s another of those ‘everything is done on the internet’ modern companies, where actual people contact doesn’t factor. Given the price difference between rail, or air, there is more than sufficient room to raise the prices a little and provide decent driver conditions, have a representative on site to organise luggage and passenger queries and ensure safety is the priority. I am amazed that European, German especially, laws are so lax in terms of safety and driver conditions, there appears to be no official safety or quality control mechanisms / legislation in place. I think the lack of driver uniforms indicates the lack of interest, you can shout all you like that a no uniforms policy represents fun and relaxation, what it actually says is cost cutting. Flixbus is primarily a line haul transport company carrying an inconvenient freight – people. As good as the Setra coaches are, I wouldn’t risk travelling with Flixbus again.

Greg Ross

An Aussie Eagle Flies over Deutschland

Detmold Raptor Sanctuary

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If you’re a nature lover and happen to be in northern Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia way, then you could do a lot worse than head to the beautiful medieval town of Detmold and Alderwarte Berlebeck the Raptor sanctuary in the suburban foothills. I’ve seen bird sanctuaries all over the world, but this has to be the best, even just for the surrounding picture-post card scenery in the valley below.

The sanctuary rescues injured raptors with the intention of releasing them back into the wild when they have recovered and they also breed up the birds. They have some local government funding, but rely on entry fees and donations to keep going, you can also sponsor a bird if you wish.

To drive to the sanctuary, input Hangstein Street Detmold to your GPS, the route takes you  past the magnificent Detmold University of Music and into some of the most beautiful German houses in the hills, it’s worth it for the drive alone (about ten minutes out of the city centre). The ample parking area comes up on a sweeping corner to your left, half way up a hill and you walk across the road to the sanctuary entry. There were suburban buses passing all the time, so no doubt it’s possible to catch a bus from the city centre, I don’t know if there are tour buses visiting the sanctuary, I didn’t see any. Beware, there is a substantial 250 metre steep uphill climb of wide concrete stairs to reach the sanctuary! There is an access road, so you can drop people off, then drive back down to the parking area, also if you have a disabled person with you, you can park up the top as well. I would suggest that if you have an elderly person who is not a fit walker, then perhaps drop them at the top.

The entry fees are very reasonable – E6.50 adults and E3.50 for kids (5 – 14), there are also group concessions available. It’s open from 9.30am to 5.30pm and there are bird flying demonstrations at 11.00am and 3.00pm from March through to November, plus an extra show at 4.30pm during Summer. For other months and more details, refer to their website www.adlerwarte-berlebeck.de  and yes, it’s in German but has an easy ‘click to translate to English’ button.

Entry is through lovely old style wrought iron gates, past a typical old German house, beautifully renovated, the lady at the entry kiosk spoke English and they also have an A4 sheet translated into English, explaining the birds on display and flying, however during  the actual shows, the handlers speak in German, but hey, it’s the birds that are the show.

When you’re through the gate, there is a long single story building on your right, walking past that, you get to the kiosk, selling all the usual café food, souvenirs and beer etc. On past the kiosk, you walk down a short flight of steps to the beginning of the pathway leading through the bird display area (the toilets are to your immediate right as you come off the steps.

The display is really well laid out, however you will find all the signs on the cages etc, are in German, but if you’ve got the English sheet with you, it’s all easy, besides, you’ll know what a lot of the birds are and there are world maps showing where each bird comes from. There are displays of baby birds and a lot of the bigger birds of prey are on leather leads on a grassed area to your left. It’s all very easy to photograph and for little kids to see, everyone is well catered for. The cages are in superb condition, I don’t know how often they are cleaned, but they were spotless.

There are two flying shows, the first sees everyone seated around a platform jutting out over the valley far below, the handler sends the birds flying out over the valley, where they soar majestically. In case you’re wondering, the birds are fitted with GPS so they can be located if they decide to go exploring! It really is amazing to see these magnificent creatures return of their own accord and interact with the crowd. Remembering the commentary is in German, what you need to know, is to stay seated, or the birds will land on your head (the tallest object around!) and if they do, don’t panic, stay calm – I watched it happen several times, to little kids as well as adults, with no issues. Also put all food away, or the birds will take it straight off you!  Don’t be tempted to stand to take a photo – ditto they’ll land on you! And really you don’t need to stand to take decent pics or video.

It was fascinating to watch some of the younger birds, still unsure of themselves in terms of flying, like little kids, they’re straight back to mum (the trainer) rather than soar off into the wild blue yonder, the trainer is literally calming them down, teaching them how to fly and glide. There is a real reluctance on the part of young birds to leave the nest, they expect the food to be brought to them, the trainers do exactly as the parents do, gradually put the food further and further away in order to make the young chic leave the perceived safety of the nest. It was a fabulous demonstration, with an amazing display of speed from Falcons capable of reaching 240km/h+ for short bursts! Most of these raptors can spot a mouse a couple of kilometres away. Oh and somebody asked why the different species of birds don’t fly together during the show, the handler gently reminded everyone that there is a pecking order, the bigger birds would immediately kill and eat the small birds of prey, a reminder that nature is always both beautiful and dangerous at the same time. He also told us the birds that can fly, all go flying during the day, as they get depressed if they can’t and of course wet weather stops them flying. We were there after several days of rain and consequently the birds were very happy at being able to play.

After a 45 minute break – try the chips and mayonnaise for a snack – the next demonstration is on the pretty lawn oval with a pond and waterfall. The effect of this show, is to bring the birds very close to everyone as they fly, often barely a metre of the ground. It was instructive to watch a young eagle being taught how to catch food on the wing – essential for his / her eventual survival in the wild, the trainer explained there were foxes waiting at the bottom of the valley, they knew when the birds were being trained and would eat anything the birds dropped.  I was particularly astounded when they brought out an owl, I had no idea owls could be trained in the same way as an eagle, or a falcon, or even that some owls flew during the day, as such the owl was a real highlight for me. Old Hooty was followed by a family act of three Falcons, they were a lot of fun and very chatty, finally the biggest daddy of them all came in, the Australian Eagle and you realised smaller birds and animals would have zero chance of survival. It also has to be said, the trust these animals displayed to their handlers was amazing, as each bird finished its training and exercise, one of the handlers would be standing by the doorway of the long building and the birds would all fly straight to them, sitting on leather protected arms to be walked through the door into the building.

I’d allow three hours at the sanctuary, it is that interesting and don’t forget the camera – or phone, truly an awe-inspiring display of the beauty and power of nature, as well as the obvious dedication and love of these birds by their handlers. I can’t recommend Adlerwarte Berlebeck enough.


Qatar, Emirates or Etihad? That is the Question!

Once upon a time, flying was genuinely exciting, one way or another, you were joining the jetsetters – that exclusive club of millionaires and movie stars, then came 9/11 and the world of travel changed, seemingly instantly. I remember the day vividly, I’d been in Queensland for the launch of Jaguar’s X-Type at Coolum Resort – in hindsight, the omens weren’t good – the X-Type failed, as did Coolum Resort, even Ansett, the airline I flew from Perth to Queensland with failed, that same day! My son had rung and woken me in the wee small hours, urging me to turn on the television. I did, sitting, watching, listening in stunned disbelief to the murderous horror that would forever be known as 9/11, to quote Leonard Cohen, “The day they murdered New York.” I flew home on Qantas, reeling as we took off from Sydney to Perth. It was surreal – Ansett aircraft were grounded on the tarmac and as we flew up over the Sydney skyline, macabre thoughts of our Qantas flight being hi-jacked ran through my mind. I landed home in Perth to a very different reality to that of some 24 hours previously; flying would conceivably never again be the relaxed luxury, so often a highlight of travelling.

Though of course, I continued to fly, both for business and pleasure, the next decade was turbulent for the airline industry – some very big names such as Pan Am disappeared forever, Concorde died in flames and Qantas did the unthinkable, grounding their fleet in dispute with their pilots. The tedious, demeaning rudeness of security checks ruined any conception of enjoyable luxury and as the industry struggled with fuel price rises and other rising costs, plus the GFC, economy seats became narrower and leg room was dramatically reduced, if you travelled in Australia, it was almost a better experience to drive, rather than fly.

But the phoenix did indeed rise out of the ashes of 9/11 and on-going crippling world financial crises, established airlines such as Qantas and Air New Zealand remodelled themselves, other airlines, such as KLM and Air France merged into strong partnerships and we began to see a revolution in budget airlines, with many established brands, such as Lufthansa, British Airways and Qantas establishing lower cost brands. In Australia, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines, assumed Ansett’s role as Australia’s second airline – it’s interesting to see now, some twelve years later, that Virgin are looking to become Australia’s business airline of choice, the role once proudly played by Ansett.

At the same time, we witnessed the rise and rise of Arab-owned airlines,  but not the established players such as Egypt Air and Turkish Airlines, the newcomers were far more exotic (to western travellers) – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. Emirates was out of the gates first, with what became an increasingly obvious game plan to become the world’s best airline. All three airlines offered travellers state of the art new aircraft, incredible levels of business and first class travel and economy class travel far in excess of what older airlines were offering – individual entertainment screens, chargers for phones, even power points for laptops, all at a time when airlines such as Qantas offered ‘take it or leave it’ three or four drop down screens in economy class sections. These were game-changing decisions, the travelling public was rightly enamoured and the three airlines had one more major factor on their side, for anyone contemplating flying from Australia to Europe – their individual home bases, in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar, were more or less on direct flight paths from Australia to the European continent and could offer substantially less travel time  on long haul flights. For Perth people, the old days of flying to Singapore and then catching another flight to Europe, often with hours of waiting time, this was a God-send, potentially shaving 10 – 12 hours off travel time and when you added the now standard waiting and queuing time for security and customs checks of three hours check-in before even boarding the flight, any extra time that can be saved is a genuine bonus.

It’s been interesting to see how our perceptions and patience with the mandatory security checks has altered, especially over the last 18 months, where once passenger rage at interminable delays and rude security staff was almost standard, the increasing descent of our world into terrorism madness, has seen a seismic shift in public acceptance. Travellers actually want these checks made and people no longer appear to be upset, shoes and belts are already off, laptops and phones on display, before anyone can even tell passengers what they need to do. As a consequence, things have become a little more pleasant, although some airports, such as Heathrow, remain a shocking experience – I for one avoid flying into Heathrow at all costs and the American experience of being fingerprinted and treated as a criminal on arrival, is unsavoury at best. Surprisingly, Europe and the airports at Abdu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar are quite reasonable, with staff efficient, but inevitably polite.

I travel to Europe often, usually at least twice a year – my wife is German, (she travels more frequently than I do), plus we have a lot of friends (and my wife’s family) throughout Europe. For many years, my airline of choice was Qantas – the Flying Roo has fantastic cabin staff, older, wiser, relaxed, very capable and friendly, however Qantas some years ago, stopped flying any international flights out of Perth, forcing travellers such as myself to either fly to the east coast of Australia and then carry on overseas, or to fly with other airlines. Qantas introduced me to Premium Economy, on a flight to the USA in 2009, I was immediate convert. With the exit of Qantas from Perth (as an international carrier – I know they’re now offering flights ex Perth to Singapore, but in my case, the horse has bolted), I began to fly economy to Singapore and once or twice to Bangkok, then travelling Premium Economy with airlines such as Air France, the only bugbear being the often long waiting periods between connecting flights. The one time I tried the Bangkok connection, it didn’t work for me – although I’d booked with Lufthansa, the flight was on a code share flight with Thai Airlines, all good until we landed unexpectedly at Phuket and had to leave the aircraft, then re-board, back in our seats, only to be told we were now on a domestic flight and therefore drinks couldn’t be served! The leg from Bangkok to Frankfurt was also flown by Thai Airlines and as much as I love 747s, the Thai Airlines 747s are as tired and feature lacking as those of British Airways, two airlines, I sadly wouldn’t bother flying with in any capacity these days.

Inevitably, on my wife’s urging, based on her experience, I started to fly with the new Arab airlines. Although none of them offered Premium Economy, my wife assured me that legroom was excellent on both Emirates and Etihad, she was sure I’d be comfortable. She was right. She was also right about the excellent food and of course the feature packed wonderfully quiet new fleets these airlines offered. And of course, they all flew far more direct routes to Europe.

On a flight last year, I flew code-share with Etihad and KLM, Etihad to Dubai and KLM to Amsterdam and found myself conflicted. Whilst Etihad offered beautiful aircraft with every conceivable extra, compared to KLM with, yes, another tired 747, the KLM cabin crew were far nicer and friendlier – for me, it was just like being with my old friend Qantas. It confirmed the suspicion I’d had for some time about Emirates and Etihad – yes, the aircraft were stunning and yes, the cabin crews were very professional, but those same cabin crews were cold, they were not interested in you as a person, any semblance of service came to a stop as soon as the obligatory meals were distributed. To get a glass of wine, you had to go back to a gallery, where the request would always be met with cold agreement, bordering on disdain. It always worked with me, I’d only ask once, then wouldn’t go back for another drink. The KLM difference was remarkable, I felt at home. And in case you’re thinking it’s a cultural thing, (in terms of religion), I don’t think so, the cabin (and flight crews of these airlines are truly multicultural, you’ve just as likely to be served by a French person, a Swedish person or an American, as you are by an Arab person. I’ve reached the conclusion the coldness is a taught corporate culture. After my last European flight (January 2016), I’d more or less decided to go back to my Perth – Singapore – Air France to Europe routine. Then I needed to make a quick trip to Europe in July, I searched the internet and thought I’d try Qatar Airways, mainly due to the impressive turnaround time of just one and a half hours at Doha, both ways and the economy airfare was very competitive as well.

So how was Qatar?

Well, I’m still in Europe, as I write this blog and will be until mid-August, so I’ve still to return home to Perth, however I am an unexpected convert.

The 777s on both legs were, as expected practically new and the overhead luggage lockers were deep and accommodating, capable of dealing with the occasional lady who always seems to have more on-board luggage than the rest of us have downstairs in the luggage hold. I particularly liked the individual air vents – I’m one of those who like air on my face. Speaking of legs, the legroom was excellent – sure, if the person in front is one of those sociopath buffoons with no sense of politeness, who leans his or her seat right back, egress will be awkward, but the economy class legroom remains very acceptable, as is the bum room – too much information, but I’m a big bloke! … which segues into shoulder room, that was a revelation. I have very wide shoulders, (old rugby union forward!), one of the reasons I always choose an aisle seat and inevitably, I have to move my shoulders to let the cabin crew past with trolleys etc, I didn’t have to on either flight. I have no idea whether the Qatar aisles are wider than those of other airlines, but the fact remains that I didn’t have to squirm around when people passed.

Unfortunately the movie libraries were very small compared to Emirates or Etihad, I struggled to find something I wanted to watch, so I’d give a C mark for movie selection and I did find the touch screen system difficult, it didn’t seem as user friendly as other airlines. The food was fine, nothing exceptional but tasty and very acceptable in terms of Economy class. Being niggly, it would be nice to have wine and whiskey in glass rather than plastic, the other airlines all serve wine in glass … as it’s always the little touches. The coffee also was excellent, but if you want a coffee during a non-meal serve period, it will be just out of a jar – yep Nescafe or worse. But, the service! Ah, the service!

The service is magnificent, whoever is training the cabin crews deserves a medal, the girls were fantastic, genuinely friendly, yes, efficient, but fun and relaxed. To go back to my previous point of culture, on the leg from Doha to Amsterdam, one of the cabin crew was an Egyptian girl Karenan, so professional, yet relaxed and fun, even to the extent of taking an interest in Erehwon the Luck Dragon – who travels everywhere with us, (a bit of mad fun). On both legs, the food, the water and the wine was both freely available and offered, indeed I overheard cabin crew politely asking people to drink more water to prevent dehydration The culture within Qatar Airways suits me! I felt welcome, I felt my business was appreciated.

The airport at Doha is not in the same league as the monuments to utter wonderful mad excess as those at Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but it’s very efficient, very easy to navigate – obviously designed to move people as quickly and easily as possible. It looked to me that most aircraft leave and arrive on the tarmac, with passengers transported to the terminal by bus, rather than direct terminal bridges, but that’s not a fault, there’s inevitably a short bus or train trip at virtually every airport these days. I also really like fact that passengers weren’t forced to walk a long false, winding, annoying trail past myriad duty free shops, as drives me mad in places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Security staff were polite and friendly – Perth airport staff could take a lesson.

It was salutary to land at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, it was a shambles last year and although it was better, the walk to the baggage roundabout and the incorrect signage is still a disgrace. When you get through the shambolic dysfunction, out into the main arrival area of the terminal, Schiphol is fantastic, with easy, obvious access to trains and buses etc, but they sure could do with a fact finding mission to Doha to see how things should be done.

The whole trip from Perth to Amsterdam, including the one and a half hour stopover in Doha, took just 20hrs and 20 minutes, not including being processed through customs and security at either end, pretty impressive and that leads to what for me, is the crux of the matter. Although we now accept and readily agree with close security screening, it’s still not a great experience and as you land, you know full well, you’re re-entering the world of queues, security and questioning, so if you’ve been blessed with 17 or 18 hours of relaxed, happy and professional service, well fed and watered, you’re in a far better frame of mind to deal with customs and security requirements, you’re relaxed.

Hat’s off to Qatar Airways, a couple of tweaks with your entertainment system and proper glass for wine and you, for me, are the best. I’d advise anybody to fly Qatar. A friend who has flown Business Class with Qatar tells me they offer the best Business Class he’s experienced. I’m actually looking forward to my flights home, usually I think, “Oh God, somehow I’ll get through this.”

Greg Ross

Ridesharing – The Highs, Lows, Hints and Mints,

You’d have to be living the life of a cave dwelling hermit, to not be aware of the massive change in the taxi industry across the globe. Most of us, especially the younger generations are very aware that the Dutch based American company Uber, has completely changed the way we think and use transport. Not many people under thirty say “Call a cab,” anymore, the catch cry is “Grab an Uber.” We all love it, the seemingly perfect solution to bad service, old, smelly, noisy cabs and aggressive, sullen drivers, not remotely interested in short destination fares.

My wife and I started using Uber a couple of years back, in fact our first Uber experience was in Sydney, our driver’s previous passenger had been Kim Beasley, the driver, a South African guy, was everything the normal taxi driver wasn’t – friendly, chatty, helpful and cheaper!

Earlier this year, having reached theoretical retirement age, meaning nobody wants to employ you – you’re too old, regardless of life skills and experience – I thought I’d look more closely at the what Uber had to offer. I’m a tour guide driver of old, I thrive on interaction with others, I really like people and drive a reasonable car. In fact more often than not, when I arrive, people say, “Oh my God, don’t tell me I’ve ordered an Uber Black!”

It proved somewhat tortuous – they really weren’t that keen on person to person contact, or answering questions, a bit like most big business these days I guess – you know the story – “You’ll find everything online, “ code for ‘WE DON’T TO TALK TO YOU! GO AWAY!”  I struggled on, purely as I felt the App-driven concept was brilliant and there had to be an interesting future for what has become known as the Rideshare industry. I was under no illusions that it was a full time proposition, but it did strike me it would have to be a reasonable source of extra income, perfect for somebody like me.

The delays in approval were agonisingly slow, any query I had as to progress, was met with bland, generic texts or emails, phone calls were obviously not even on a back agenda. I later learnt that at that point in time, Uber was overwhelmed with drivers, so people were put on the backburner, until needed. There appears to be about a three month churn factor, as drivers discover the rainbow is ephemeral and somebody’s already raided the pot!

About four weeks into the ludicrous machinations, (late March this year), another rideshare company appeared in the news – Shofer, with a different take on the rideshare game. With Uber, drivers – well, the euphemistic term Partners is used by Uber, but that’s corporate doublespeak bullshit – drivers supply their own vehicles and not only pay tax on what they earn, (as they should I hasten to add), they also pay the GST on the full amount the passenger pays – Uber pays no tax! How good is that for a business model! Is that Clive Palmer I hear weeping on the golf course at Coolum? Plus, they take a minimum of 20% of the gross fare, with newer drivers (post 1 April 2016) 25%, so if your fare is $20.00, the driver is actually payed $16.00, but then has to pay $2.00 GST, so his or her actual earn for the $20.00 trip, is $14.00. Of course, he or she has to pay for the fuel, all running costs and allow for depreciation. I know , I know, you can’t wait to sign up as a driver either!

Shofer, on the other hand, use their own cars, Toyota Camrys, usually hybrids and it has to be said they are the perfect vehicle for the task, roomy, very economical, quiet and Toyota tough, not to mention, that 18yr old Narelle, can Bluetooth her phone through the speaker system so she can play her music rather than the driver’s. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite so screechingly noisy as four inebriated teenage girls speaking over each other at top volume while playing some screaming talentless talent quest bird on the radio! Drivers carry Ibuprofen, they usually need it after a Friday or Saturday night. In short, Toyota’s Hybrid Camry is the best taxi in the business and Shofer’s business model is undoubtedly the best taxi model anywhere – safety is paramount with all cars camera equipped and even panic buttons for passengers and drivers alike.

Drivers pay a weekly fee of around $340.00 for the fully insured and equipped vehicle, that’s around $150.00 less than what a Bailee driver pays for a taxi each week. All the driver has to pay is the fuel, Shofer even supply the phone, so it really is a very fair and honourable system. The trouble is, nobody knows about it. Everybody thinks Uber, nobody thinks Shofer and Shofer is dearer than Uber, though cheaper then taxis and I suspect the majority of rideshare passengers are price driven. The example I often give, is that a $32.00 ride with a taxi, will cost $25.00 with Shofer and somewhere between $18.00 and $20.00 with Uber … unless there is an Uber surge on!

I was so intrigued with the Shofer business model, I decided to give it a go, but the lack of passenger numbers eventually saw me hand the car back. They are genuinely great people and I remain convinced, theirs is THE model for the future of the taxi industry, but without a substantial and sustained increase in marketing and advertising, the message will take too long to get out to the public, meanwhile, drivers are subsidising the service. Hopefully it’s changed, but I found I would go out for several soul destroying hours and get maybe two jobs for $50.00, after 200kms, then repeat the same journey using my own car as an Uber vehicle and earn $200.00 for 110kms. I should also add that Shofer takes nothing from the rideshare fee, their business model is based on leasing the car and phone fully insured. In the finish, as much as I like their concept, I simply could not afford to go on subsidising it. So I decided to try Uber on a more regular basis.

The work is there, make no mistake, if I turn on the Uber App before I back out of the garage, 90% of the time, it pings with a ride and it never stops. Sure, there are periods when things go quiet – 8.00pm – 10.00pm on a Friday or Saturday night and it’s a waste of time driving on Mondays, but apart from that, the business is constant. However you soon learn to drive smart.

Sticking around the CBD or Northbrdige on a Friday or Saturday night is a waste of time, traffic jams, kids wanting to hop half a kilometre from one bar to the next, which equates to maybe $4.00 for twenty five minutes, thanks but no thanks. And you can’t find anybody – they’ll request an Uber at the bar, then take ten minutes to come out, all six of them, wanting to fit in the car. I know people find it very hard to get an Uber out of James or Murray Streets, in the early hours of the morning, let me give you a tip – walk to Roes Street or Milligan Street and call from there, an Uber will pick you up in two minutes. Another tip if you’re at the Casino – it’s difficult to find people, walk out to the hotel on the corner and call for the Uber there, the cars will get to you very quickly.

It all sounds good, BUT, Uber consistently reduce the fares, the name of the game being to squeeze any competitor out.  “Great!” You say! But they also increase their commission, all the while urging drivers to provide bottled water and mints to passengers – at the drivers expense! It’s usually only the young passengers going half a kilometre who ask for water and mints, I always tell them they’ve had a win with the reduced fares, so truthfully, there’s no money to supply free water and mints. Some pout, others see the point.

There are substantial benefits for the community – young people are no longer drink driving, they catch an Uber and that’s not a market taxis ever had, Uber created it, so socially, every Uber on the road is helping reduce road trauma and making our roads safer. That’s a huge as yet unrealised benefit (by the authorities), the trouble is, every Uber driver is subsidising every passenger and every Uber driver is treated with contempt and disdain by Uber generating a virtually complete breakdown in trust between drivers and Uber.

The great shame of all this distrust, is that ridesharing is a brilliant 21st century concept, it’s just that Uber have applied 19th / 20th century employer attitudes to their drivers.
It is actually very similar to the majority of mining companies – where the employee is treated like an idiot child, with no respect, hidden beneath a thin veneer of care. And really, Uber’s absolute insistence, on no person to person contact and reliance on bland data driven text responses, is no different from say dealing with a telco or a government department.

Just watch and listen to a politician avoiding answering questions, or reacting as say Colin Barnett – getting angry and confrontational if questioned. The sad reality is Uber treats drivers exactly as most other businesses and large employers do, although it’s important not to single out Uber as being any different to most large companies – they simply do not see any value in their drivers (employees) as individuals with skills.

Collectively, Uber drivers hate it, but are powerless to do anything. Question a public servant or demand an answer, or respect and you know very well you’re going to the back of the queue. Question an employer and there goes your job, or at the very least, any opportunity of advancement. Question Uber and they’ll disconnect you from the system, no ifs, no buts and certainly no explanations and sometimes, they’ve convinced some poor bastard to buy a car on hire purchase, all the while steadily reducing his possible income with fare reductions and more and more cars on the road. Quality will not be sustainable and already taxi drivers are coming over to Uber, bringing with them the entrenched attitudes that brought the industry to virtual oblivion.

Just two things would make the job viable – a 15% – 20% increase in fare structure and payment of the GST by Uber. The only other need would be genuine respect for the drivers.
Now it’s not going to happen, but how interesting would it be to see Richard Branson, open up a Virgin Rideshare business, applying the business ethics and moral principles he so strongly insists on. He could cherry pick the best drivers and vehicles and unlike an excellent provider like Shofer, he has no need to build a brand, Virgin is known and trusted across the world.  Wishful thinking aside – well, I did Tweet the idea to him today – I can see the rideshare game is a developing business, it’s nowhere near its full potential or final guise and is crying out for decency.

If you like using Uber, spare a thought for the ordinary hard working man or woman behind the wheel, you might think it’s irrelevant to keep them waiting for four or five minutes before you go out the door, you might think you’re socially above them, you might even feel you are absolutely entitled to water and mints and you can wield enormous power over the driver, by not awarding them five stars.

Did you know if you keep awarding drivers three or four stars, which realistically may seem fair and very reasonable under normal circumstances, Uber has a very different take on three and four stars, they look on a three or a four as bad bad and very quickly will cut a driver off the system as punishment.  And don’t think Uber’s not coming for you, they are primarily a data gathering company. Yes, Uber is now the biggest taxi company in the world, yet they don’t own any vehicles – well, there are no doubt company cars for senior managers, but to understand what the company really is about, take a look at your mobile phone and see what Uber is learning about you 24hrs a day.

The Uber rideshare concept is brilliant and I remain eternally optimistic that a Richard Branson will introduce ethics to the concept, meanwhile, if you like a driver and his or her car, ask for their card / phone number, call and pre-book them when next you need an Uber. When you get in their car, that’s when you use the app, with the call going to the nearest vehicle, in this case, the one you’re sitting in. Better still, as is more frequently happening, when you call your favourite driver to pre-book, pay him or her what Uber would have charged you, just give the driver the cash, it’s not going to cost you anymore and you’ll have looked after the person looking after you.

One more thing, safety, the State Government has brought in some sensible requirements for ridershare drivers – all drivers must have an F or T Class license extension, all rideshare cars (Uber or Shofer) must have a full annual safety inspection and a valid Omnibus license (for the vehicle), copies of this paperwork MUST be carried in the car and produced on demand. If I felt something was not quite right, I would also insist that the driver show me written proof that he or she has Rideshare insurance. The driver must also produce, on request, a colour photograph, in other words, his or her license. There is very good in-built safety in the Uber system – as the passenger, you get the driver’s name, picture, mobile phone number, make of vehicle and car registration when you book the ride, take a quick look when you make the booking and if the vehicle arriving is different, or the driver looks different, don’t get in, ask to see the paperwork and driver’s license.

But if everything’s kosher and 99.99% of the time, it is, then spare a thought for the slave labour and conditions the person taking you safely to your destination is working under. One thing is for sure, neither Uber, nor the State Government could care less about the person you’re entrusting your safety to. Maybe you might like to write to Uber and your local MP, that way you’ll ensure ridesharing remains the wonderful answer to modern city transport needs it has already become. It’s up to you, the market dictates. Enjoy the ride
PS: The thought of an ex tour guide and roadtrain driver with 50+ years of safe driving experience and a black S60 Volvo sedan with leather and woodgrain appealed to a lot of riders, but I stopped driving Uber in December last year, as I couldn’t justify the income and hours versus the meagre (loss-making returns).

All Bound for Memory Town, Many Years Away – Georgy Girl – The Musical


Long ago, far away across the Tasman, around 1968, I asked a girl to walk with me through the stunningly beautiful Pukekura Park in New Plymouth, to see if we could sneak into the Seekers concert being held that night at the Brooklands Bowl. We did, it was magic … in more ways than one – after the concert, walking back through the dark, we didn’t see a ditch had been dug across the path and fell in, finding ourselves surrounded by twinkling glow worms – a boy fell into the ditch, a young man helped a young woman out, which kind of segues into the fact that in the history of the Seekers, a young woman helped three young men out. So it’s fitting a musical about the Seekers should centre around Judith Durham.

I was the grateful recipient of tickets from a great mate, Keith Potger, who just happens to be one of the Seekers. I took my youngest daughter, Saraj, which was appropriate, for in her then job at Variety Club, some 16 or 17 years ago, she introduced me to Keith and our friendship flourished. And so to Crown Theatre Perth on a cold wet winter’s night.

The set is minimalist, just a little bit too so; it seems everyone is relying on backdrop film technology in live theatre. I’ve only ever seen it done magnificently twice – the 1996 Michael Jackson concert and the 2004 David Bowie ‘Reality’ concert. Sure it worked well during the Seekers 50th Anniversary concerts, but in terms of live theatre, it does seem lazy. Certainly it was slick and the lighting excellent, so too was sound quality throughout the evening, but …

Here, I must state the singers were superb, but the script was as lazy as the set, it simply did not allow for character to shine through, although I knew I was watching and listening to really top notch actor / singers – Pippa Grandison  as Judith Durham), Phillip Lowe  as Keith Potger, Mike McLeish  as Bruce Woodley and Glaston Toft as Athol Guy, plus Stephen Wheat and Luke Joslin.

Yes, it’s endearing to have a character slip in and out of an MC role, (Luke Joslin as Judith’s husband), but I would have preferred meat on roles, some fleshing out of characters. By intermission, it was obvious the musical should have gone to a dramaturge for development – the boys became cardboard cut outs – it’s a musical! Poetic licence and musicals go together like a horse and carriage. Throw in a song writing scene with Bruce Woodley and Paul Simon, perhaps a scene where Keith realises he’s fallen in love with Pamela. We didn’t get any of that in the first half, what we did get was several scenes whichwe wer then told never happened – so what else was made up became a disconcerting thought mantra.We did get plenty of scenes with Judith’s mom and dad, which kept reminding me of scenes from ‘Back to the Future,’ but no real depth. Worse, there weren’t enough Seekers songs to fill in the missing ‘book’.

After intermission, the pace picked up considerably, the lighting came alive and the storyline stepped up several notches, at last we had drama and pathos, the black and white scene switching to blood read was fabulous theatre, I finally began to feel involved and by the finale, bathed and washed in Woodley’s finest song ‘I AM AUSTRALIAN’, surely the best national anthem we will ever have, I had tears welling in my eyes. This was what I’d hoped the musical would be. Sadly, irrespective of how good the actors were, they could not save a basically dull script.

It was a lovely night of theatre, ephemeral nostalgia swirled like welcome mist over water, but the Seekers story deserves better. Throw away the book, employ a new set designer, keep the same actors and singers and costume designers, but rework the script – why not throw in a cameo of Barry Humphries, Clive James, Germaine Greer, John Lennon etc, to set the Aussies in London theme? Artistic licence is fine in a musical.

Please don’t misunderstand me, it was a great night’s entertainment, fabulous everlasting music, a tribute to wonderfully talented people performed by wonderfully talented people, all crying out for a better book. Speaking of crying out, one lunatic was missing from amongst us last night – Cammo.  The mad bastard would have loved it and just as at the finish of the 5oth Anniversary concert, he would have starred down at me and scoffed, “You’ve teared up! So have I!”  I just looked around and he was gone.

Someday, hopefully in a long distant future, the Carnival will indeed be over, yet these ordinary Aussies, including the Sri Lankan born Potger cove, will always be pivotal to our musical history, their tale needs the right telling.

Greg Ross

Confessions from Eden Hill – A Chardonnay Socialist’s Let loose at a Booth

Election Day July 2nd 2016

[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_01-20160625_133830.jpg]620Declaring support
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_1-img_20160629_094826.jpg]60My SMH political results
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_02-20160702_040250.jpg]704.00am at Eden Hill Primary School
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_03-20160702_073827.jpg]80As I always suspected, Malcolm leans to the left.
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_04-20160702_091727.jpg]60The Swedish Billboard.
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_08-20160702_143148.jpg]60Friendly fire.
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_09-20160702_143755.jpg]60This Medicare card was very clever
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_3-l1050573.jpg]40This could be a collectors piece very shortly
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_2-l1050570.jpg]40Back to the Future - No, I can't explain.
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_07-img_20160702_140029.jpg]40This must be the future!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_05-20160702_135741.jpg]50Cleaver Greene stands for nothing at Eden Hill!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_10-20160702_153147.jpg]40Cleaver and his larrikin WA supporter
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_1-20160702_180221.jpg]30
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_16-20160703_111030.jpg]30I'm in ... only just!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_15-20160703_111015.jpg]40The count
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_14-20160703_111005.jpg]40It certainly is
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_13-20160703_110948.jpg]40It's Party Time!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_12-img_20160703_103545.jpg]40Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday morning
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/election-day-july-2nd-2016/thumbs/thumbs_1-l1050567.jpg]40My two party preferred candidates.

Though I lean naturally to the left – well, perhaps not so naturally – I was raised in a traditional right wing union-loathing Pakeha Kiwi home and went to the pre-requisite oh so English boarding school, but finding myself alone and penniless on Oz soil, some forty years ago, gradually shook and reshaped my political foundations.

I do fondly consider myself a bit of a swinging voter – I’ve handed out How to Vote cards for Colin Barnett (Liberals), Ben Wyatt (Labor) and even myself (Independent) and now Tim Hammond  (Labor) – twice! – though I’ve yet to met him.

The question of who to support this election was tricky, for though it’s correct Australian voters do not vote for a Prime Minister, in a weird sort of twice removed way, we actually do, whether it’s a primary vote for a party, or your vote becomes caught up in the Two Party Preferred count. The dilemma for me was I like Malcolm Turnbull, but, as Leonard Cohen puts it so aptly in his song DEMOCRACY – “I love the country (in my case man), but I can’t stand the scene.” The reverse applies when it’s a question of Labor – I just cannot warm to Bill Shorten. However over these last tumultuous 12 months or so, it’s become increasingly obvious Malcolm just wanted to be King, he had no plan other than to sit upon the throne and be worshipped, vain, blatant and finally, hollow.

It seemed I would have no choice other than to vote for a candidate I liked. Then Tim Hammond announced he was standing again. Game over for me. I rang the Labor Party, offered space for a poster on our front fence and volunteered to man a booth for Tim. They accepted and asked if I’d like to also scrutineer, I was delighted, as I love the political process. And so to the day of reckoning down at the local school at the end of the street.

Knowing election material can be torn down and ripped apart in the shadows of night, I turned up at 4.00am, startling the lone security man, who’d been tasked with guarding everyone’s signage and already there was a tale to be told. A lovely young migrant guy from India, he was cold, lonely and worried about his motorbike and backpack whenever he had to walk around the block and was only able to have the 12 hour job if he agreed to be paid in cash at $19.00 an hour, no penalty rates, super, insurance or anything else. I don’t know whether the AEC has responsibility for that situation, but it is a bloody disgrace. Somebody fix that please!

We quickly ascertained that he would park his bike in front of my car and I would keep an eye on it whilst he soldered on on dawn patrol. Time passed, I read the West Australian and The Australian, learning to my dismay that my vote-to-be was incorrect. 6.00am and some Liberal Party supporters arrived, genuinely nice people, I think a little surprised to find I wasn’t on their team, nevertheless, we gelled.

6.30am, war was declared. No, not between the red and blue camps but Stormin’ Norman from the AEC! He came out of the gate all aggression, loathing and arrogance, demanding banners be removed from a section of fence, laying down the law like some army sergeant. It shocked all of us, it was so unnecessary and demonstrated a complete lack of people skills. Somebody had to say something to Bluster Incorporated, so I spoke up, “Mate, slow down, relax, we’re all adults, you’ll bust a foo foo valve, give yourself a heart attack, we’re OK with whatever’s needed.” He ranted on walking away as we spoke. The Liberal people shook their heads at me and warned I should stop, perhaps that why I tend to vote leftish, I simply cannot stop when confronted with that sort of nonsense. I warned him to behave; he didn’t respond and stamped back to his lair.

Bemused at his display, we started to remove our offending displays, during which time, two Labor Party operatives arrived, distinctly unhappy to see me removing their material – they too immediately assumed I was a Liberal offender. It took a minute or so to gently explain I was on their side and we were jointly under attack from a third party.

Then suddenly a bread delivery truck arrived, parking right behind me, in that “Now you can’t see my bumper in your mirror!” territorial truckie manner. “Are you waiting for the bread?” demanded said driver.

“Ah no,” spoke I.

“Well I can’t just leave it here!” He loudly exclaimed.

I began to suspect his father was working for the AEC. “Mate,” I replied, “That’s fine, leave it here and we’ll look after it until somebody arrives who knows about it.” He softened and unloaded the bread. Not long after that, a guy from the Eden Hill Primary School P&T arrived to claim the loaves. Ah, the Sausage Sizzle!

7.00am and incredibly, a few people were starting to gather to vote, on a cold morning, an hour before the booth was due to open! One bloke went home for coffee, but the rest stayed! Then the AEC sergeant came out to inspect the parade ground, along with several privates, all of whom, he spoke to in the same manner as he’d addressed us, we then understood it had been nothing personal, he genuinely had no people skills. The space he’d demanded seemed to suit his purpose, the minions erected the AEC signage and I said, “Excuse me, where are the toilets?”

“No!” He said, “You can’t use them, they’re locked, the school is closed.”

“Strewth!” I said, “What are we supposed to do, we’re here for several hours?”

“That’s not the AEC’s problem, it’s yours, you’ll have to find a way to deal with it!” And once again, he walked away. I was beginning to get the distinct impression the AEC was the enemy here, not the other political parties. By now, a lady had arrived for the Greens and two guys for the Australian Liberty Alliance, the guys were delighted to find free space on the fence so close to the gate, it broke my heart to inform them death and destruction, in the form of 150kgs of hate from the AEC would reign down upon them should they hang anything on the space.

Too much information, I know, but by now, it was almost 8.00am, I’d been there for four hours, it was cold and my aged bladder was screaming! Indeed we all had a similar problem and we had two ladies amongst us. The mantle fell to me to go and see what could be found. I entered the gate. Finding a lady with an official AEC vest, I asked where the loos were. “Follow me,” she smiled and said, “They’re round the other side of this building”. We walked around, she pointed out the toilet block and said “Your door is on the left” and went back to her duties. Mentally relieved, I strode towards the door, suddenly a door on the right opened and there stood a large lady, keys twirling in her hand, glaring down at me. “You can’t come in here, they’re locked!”

“Well you’ve used them and you’ve got a key!” I responded.

“That’s nothing to do with it, they’re locked and you’re not allowed to use them!”

“What’ll I do, piss on the lawn?”

“You’ll have to!” she triumphantly exclaimed and strode away.

Fair enough. As usual, strip men of any dignity, we’re used to it, but for decency’s sake what about the ladies amongst us? Later, people were queuing to vote for considerable periods of time, surely the AEC can arrange for toilet cleaning after a voting event, you sure as hell wouldn’t be able to organise a private event without facilities being available.

It was busy more or less from the moment the gates opened at 8.00am, often queues were forming. At one stage, the sergeant appeared, surrounded by minions once again, they moved along the crowd, asking who was in the electorate and who was not, establishing two or three different queues, it worked, people were being processed more quickly. He triumphantly reappeared, strode towards us and announced “I’ve fixed that, they’re moving now!” We almost applauded, he was right, but sadly more people kept arriving.

I love the game of trying to guess who somebody will vote for. When a young woman arrives with green hair, pierced lips, ears, nose and god knows where else, it’s a fair bet she’s voting Green, ditto with the dreadlocked guy, although the Marijuana Party may feature somewhere in the mix, but it can be difficult. Eden Hill is being gentrified and the demographic is eclectic, sometimes the well-dressed woman in Prada will shock you, declaring she’s voting Labor, but more usually they swirl past, Botox lips curling in disdain at having to walk past the proletariat swill. I tended to confuse them – after so many years drinking copious red wines and malts, not to mention weekly banquets, nobody, except sail makers, builds t-shirts in my size and the Labor Party just didn’t have the funds to stretch that far, so I was, perhaps appropriately, neither obviously Red, Blue, Green or otherwise, it became fun.

A TransPerth bus driver turned up, “Where’s One Nation?” she loudly demanded. “They’re not here,” we informed her.

“Well I want them, I’m voting for Pauline! Are they on the other side?”

“Yes”, I quietly thought.

“Well in that case, who’s Labor, I’ll have to vote Labor.” She took the Labor How to Vote card, astounding every one of us. Quite how she made the quantum leap from Pauline to Bill had all of us in shock, but it certainly gave us something to talk about. By now it was 10.00am, my first shift was finished and it was time for a four hour break. I’d decorated the strategically placed Volvo with Labor stickers and didn’t want to move the billboard, so I walked home. On the way (just the next street), a young Asian family, Mum, Dad and a little girl walked towards me. I noticed the lady was carrying a corflute poster – ah, Clive was about to arrive! Yes, PUP was heading for the booth, the guy was carrying a handful of leaflets, I almost asked them for a photograph, but, if I say so myself, a sensational idea formed in my pea brain.

“They’re all there now,” I thought, “The Sex Party, Stop Sharia Law, Take Back Australia, we only need Please Explain. No!” I realised, “There is another worthy candidate missing – Cleaver!” I almost ran home, straight to the printer.

Rested, coffeed, fortified, I wandered back to school and just like the PUP family before me, I too carried election material, yes, Cleaver Greene was about to break loose – raise the electoral bar as it were. “What are you up to?” questioned the delightful Liberal lady, “OMG!” The rest of my fellow HTV volunteers gathered around. “Oh God!” sighed the Liberal chap, “I love it!” declared the Greens lady, “I’ve got to take photos”, said our Labor team leader. It does have to be said the Australian Liberty Alliance guys seemed not overly impressed, the PUPs had hung their sign and vanished, while Pauline’s mob had also visited, hung and gone – hmm, sounds like a Vietnamese restaurant – I think they’re OK with Pauline these days, it’s just those damn Muslims! Which does segue into a wonderful scenario some time later. A Sikh guy came along; one of the Liberty Alliance blokes approached him, explaining about sharia law, Islam and immigrants taking over and so on. I couldn’t take my eyes off the proceedings, as the Sikh gracefully extricated himself from his new found unwanted compatriot.

The hardest people to gauge were the hipsters – the young twenty something guys with the loggers beards and the pipe thin cords, cool, inevitably tall and always alone, they took nothing from anybody, not a word, perhaps a nonchalant almost imperceptible shake of the head, none of us knew. Very good boys.

Rusted on Labor voters were inevitably easy, they told you in no uncertain terms, the best one was probably the elderly Hungarian guy, who drove up with his wife in their red AWD and due to ill health, wanted to park in the school, I called out they could as long as they voted Labor, the Liberal guy joining in the fun, told them, they’d have to vote Liberal, which unleashed a three minute lecture on how he’s only voted Labor in 40 years and carpark or no carpark, nothing was going to change that!  We ushered him straight in. Rusted on Liberal voters were also easy to pick – they didn’t smile, had no banter and looked on anybody not wearing a blue Mighty Quinn T-shirt, as something the fly spray hadn’t worked on, stereotyping I know, but it is how it was. Now and then, couples would come along with opposing political views, inevitably very funny comments from one and chilling silence from the other, really great stuff to observe. Of course, there were also the “Fuck them all, they’re all liars and thieves, I don’t even want to be here!” people. It was the perfect opportunity to say to them, “Then have I got the candidate for you!” Yes, swiping Jiminy Cricket and caution from my shoulder, Cleaver Greene would make his appalling appeal.

5.00pm and by now, it was the stragglers ball and fair to say most of these were beyond even Cleavers’ reach, they seemed to wear a ‘Vote or be bloody fined’ shadow. At one stage, one of the AEC girls came out looked at us and said admiringly, “How much are you guys paid?” She was genuinely shocked to find we were volunteers and said there was no way she’d do it for free. I guess she was smarter than us, she was being paid and had a toilet to use!

As the Sun went down in the west, our collective thoughts turned to dismantling the hoardings and placards. At 6.00pm, I signed the Scrutineering Form and walked into the voting area to present myself and diplomatic credentials … to none other than Stormin’ Norman, who, to his credit, raised not an eyebrow as he studied me. “It’s five minutes past six!” He triumphantly cried, “You’re too late, you can’t come in!”

“Oh,” said I, “Alright, I’ll buzz off.”

“Well?” He said to the gaping Liberal chap, “What do you think?”

My Liberal counterpart said, “Well, he’s just been cleaning up and we might have to confer on things, I don’t have a problem, he’s been here all day!”

“Alright, I do things by the book, but I guess it’s the intent that counts, you can stay.”

“Oh great,” I replied, “Where’s the toilet?” Silence, you could have heard somebody taking the piss. Then the fearsome Lady of the Toilet Keys spoke up, “Around the other side of the building, you’ll need a key!” Another of the helpers also needed the loo and we set off together.

“Stop!” Thundered the sergeant, “This form is signed by somebody we don’t have, you can’t act as a scrutineer! There is nobody called Louise Pratt!”

“Yes there is,” I replied, “She’s a Labor Senate candidate.”

“Well I don’t know her!” he responded. I began to think he was related to Joe Bullock, they had a certain physical similarity. My Liberal supporter said, “She’s a senate candidate, it’s fine.” The commanding officer looked at his papers, nodded and relented, I was allowed to stay. It was a close thing, we were just seconds away from my producing a note from Cleaver Greene to say I could do anything I wanted.

I found the counting process fascinating,  Sarge explained the Scrutineering rules – we were allowed to touch nothing, observe everything and query anything, plus we were to witness and sign lock numbers on the voting boxes when they were opened or closed. In answer to my query as to whether I could pass on information as the night went on, he said yes, everything was now open and it was important there were no secrets.

The AEC girls and one bloke were straight into it, Lower House first. Everything was sorted by candidate name, with the forms initially put into piles of 25. It became obvious very early on (6.50pm) that Tim Hammond was going to win this particular booth. By the time it got to the Two Party Preferred count, Sarge was under a lot of pressure – he was keeping an eye on the start of the Senate count as well. At one pivotal point, he asked my Liberal friend to stop counting out loud, as he was trying to concentrate, he explained to me that everything had to be legal that’s all he was trying to do. I started to feel sorry for him and realised that all he needed was a course in developing people management skills.

By 7.30pm the three of us compared notes and figures, everything matched and Sarge rang the AEC results office, where they rightly congratulated him on having all figures complete, right down to the Two Party Preferred count. He had done well. I prepared for a long night observing the Senate count, but the Liberal man, said not to bother, it would take several days and there was no sense in waiting, nothing would be achieved that night, probably not for several nights, Sarge agreed and we all parted friends … I think.

I drove over to the Bayswater Pub, where the function room was a sea of cheering and laughing red t-shirts. Surprise, surprise, Tim had ordered opened, some very good reds (I’m not a beer drinker) and I settled in to watch the ABC coverage, but alas, the crowd were in fine humour, but very loud form, cheering or jeering at the numbers flashing up on the screen, I could hear nothing and eventually, as I really didn’t know anybody, I decided to quietly sneak home and watch, (read listen), to the telecast in the comfort of our own lounge, I hope nobody was offended.

The results coming in were fascinating, the marketing man in me was impressed with Bill Shorten’s speech – the Victory speech you give, when you haven’t necessarily won,  a twin barbed message to Malcom and would be Labor leaders. Like everyone else, I waited and waited and waited, alas, it seemed Malcolm had thrown his crown, sorry dummy, in the dirt. His continuing non-appearance at the Liberal Party wake was jarring in its bad form. I gave up went to bed.

Postscript: It seems I missed nothing in terms of what Malcolm had to say, but his actions have confirmed I made the right choice. I became certain during polling day that the senate would be unworkable and there would be another election within twelve months – I’d lay money on it now. I’m glad Tim won his seat, though we have never met, my gut instinct is he’s a decent caring man. I’m glad Steve Irons won Swan, Tammy Solonec’s attack was both completely wrong and an appalling disgrace. I’m glad Ann Aly appears to have won Cowan, Simpkins and the Liberal Party reached the gutter in their desperate hate-driven smears against her. I can’t believe the people of New England voted Barnaby back in and I’m dismayed that fear and loathing is once again rearing its ugly, vicious head amongst sections of the voting public. I also think the results should give sections of the media cause to reflect, the public has, in its own way, given a message that they will make the decisions, not the media. I’m glad I had the good fortune to work alongside some really lovely people from all political persuasions,  as we politely pestered trapped voters.

Finally: Whether you like the result and message, or not, the fact is, the Australian people have told the politicians and the media what they think of the candidates, parties and process.

Post Postcript:  Cleaver, oh Cleaver, you wonderful mad rake, the Tweets I made have gone viral, it seems Australia is crying out for you. I’m glad I was able to contribute in some small way to both yours and Tim’s campaigns.






La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs & Margaret River – A Perfect Match

Cape Lodge La Chaine Cocktail Event

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Western Australia is not only an ancient land, it is also vast – experts tell us France fits into WA four times, Germany seven, yet such is the nature of the geology and climate, the population is only around 2.6 million and most dwell in the southern region, with 2.2 million in the Perth area. We’re often told Perth is the most isolated city in the world, indeed, the closest city is Jakarta and it is perhaps that very isolation that gives the Indian Ocean city a different vibe, a different feel from other Australian cities. And like all cosmopolitan cities, the locals have their favourite playgrounds, perhaps none more worshiped than the true South West, where the rain falls heavy in the winter and the endless surf breaks all summer long. An easy three hour drive sees you driving amongst splendid tall Eucalypt forests, pristine beaches, a multitude of wildflowers and of recent times, some of the finest wineries in the world. With the growth of these wineries, inevitably, restaurants and cafes have been created to showcase the region’s wine and produce. Three of the foremost wineries – Cullen’s, Leeuwin and Vasse Felix, are rightly these days, almost as well renowned for their food as for their wines. Fabulous five star accommodation venues such as Cape Lodge and La Foret Enchantée, plus a plethora of resorts, hotels and B&Bs discreetly dot the landscape, the spectacular growth of the wine industry, along with magnificent scenery, has seen hospitality become the main game of what was once equally rich grazing land.

As the national committee finalised the itinerary for next year’s Concours International des Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs, (to be held in Perth), two things became blindingly obvious – there had to be a tour of the South West region in the event itinerary and the timing was perfect for the establishment of a South West Bailliage.  Enlisting the help of well-known region professionals – Rob Gough (Settlers Tavern,  Margaret River), Michael Whyte (Brand Manager, Howard Park Wines and Vice-Conseiller Culinaire – Jacqui Read-Smith (South Metropolitan TAFE), the committee sent out invitations to attend an introductory cocktail party at Cape Lodge to be held on the evening of Tuesday 14th June.

Although as expected, a number of invited guests were away on well-deserved holidays, the evening was a splendid success, with professional guests including Aaron Carr (Executive Chef Vasse Felix), Vanya Cullen (Cullen Wines) and Trish and Dennis Horgan (Leeuwin Estate). Dennis merits special mention, as he has been a professional member of La Chaine for more years than he cares to remember and was duly presented with a La Chaine brass plaque in recognition of his wonderful service.The organising committee wish to express their gratitude to Drew Bernhardt and his team at Cape Lodge for the superb food and service and to both Peter Schrader (Irvine Wines) and Michael Whyte (Howard Park Wines), for the wines, the quality of guests was justly matched by the food, wine and location.

Norm Harrison, (Bailli Délégué Australia) and Wayne Teo, (Bailli Regional, Western Australia), performed dual MC duties, with Norm taking the guests through a synopsis of La Chaine and his hopes for the establishment of the South West Bailliage. It was wonderful to have the runner up in the 2015 Australian Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs amongst the guests, voicing her enthusiasm for La Chaines and the competition.

It was a truly magical eve, in the very best tradition of La Chaine – fine food and wine and relaxed genuine camaraderie in a glorious setting. Norm and Wayne finished the evening thanking guests for the interest and obvious enthusiasm, then presenting Drew with a La Chaine plaque for outstanding service shown by Cape Lodge. The committee looks forward to assisting in whatever way required by the soon to be established South West Bailliage and would like to express sincere thanks for the interest and support offered in emails, by those who were unable to attend.

As a postscript, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the wonderful night at Settlers Tavern with hosts Rob and Karen Gough on the Monday night, followed by a spectacular lunch and wine tasting at Cullen’s on the Tuesday, with host Valma Cullen. The wines were, as to be expected, stunning, however new chef Colin Anderson, deserves special mention for the exquisite food, including a Haggis with Quail Egg that will surely quash any negatives regarding the wee Scottish morsel. The South West is truly the Jewel in the Crown of the West.

Greg Ross