Anti-vaxxers flood federal inquiry with complaints about compulsory injections

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ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, chairman of the committee reporting on the No Jab, No Pay Bill, said all submissions were being read and considered. Photo: Jeffrey Chan Thousands of people objecting to the compulsory vaccination of their children are bombarding a federal inquiry into the plan and could disrupt a hearing next week.

The campaign by the “anti-vaxxers” has surprised the Senate community affairs legislation committee, which must report within weeks about the No Jab, No Pay Bill.

The plan to cut childcare benefits from parents who fail to immunise their children passed the House of Representatives last week.

Only those with a valid medical reason will be exempt from the $500 million budget-saving crackdown on anti-vaxxers.

There are concerns about outbursts by outraged parents about the legislation, at the committee’s hearing in Brisbane on Monday.

Committee chairman ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja is hoping for restraint at the public hearing, despite the huge number of strong objections lodged with the committee.

“We’ve had a lot of submissions, far more than we would ordinarily get for legislation – I don’t know the latest number but certainly in the thousands,” he said on Wednesday.

“The vast major of those are against the legislation, expressing concerns about the legislation.”

The committee has not been able to publish all the submissions flooding in from conscientious objectors.

About 2500 pieces of correspondence have been received by the committee secretariat, but some have been sent twice by error. The inquiry website was listing 331 submissions late on Wednesday.

Senator Seselja said all of the submissions were being read and considered by the committee.

“Obviously there are very strong views on this issue and I respect that people have strong views,” he said.

“I happen to believe very strongly in the importance of vaccination; I think the health benefits are overwhelming.

“We always need to carefully consider arguments and concerns, but obviously I think that having a widespread vaccination program has been of really significant benefit to and to the world.”

He was approached by anti-vaxxers when he had a Liberal Party stall at shopping centres.

“At the margins I think there are some legitimate concerns around medical exemptions, but I think that can be dealt with by the legislation, where some people can have reactions, but I think that’s very rare,” he said.

“Obviously it’s important that we always listen to these concerns, but I think the importance of vaccination shouldn’t be underestimated.

“I did know there were strong feelings in parts of the community on this, and that is their democratic right to express that, and the committee does all it can to listen to those arguments.

“It’s concerning when we see the level of vaccination going down in some particular areas; there are parts of the country that have low levels of vaccination.

“It was only 20 odd years ago that our levels of vaccination in were quite low by western standards and under the Howard government there was a real push and a significant increase in the rates.

“We need to be very careful to guard against any scaling back of vaccination.”

The 76-page submission from the n Vaccination-skeptics Network says savings in the forward estimates of over $500 million “lends weight to our view that the bill is merely a budgetary savings measure and not a health measure as it is purported to be”.

The ACT government on Wednesday reported an increase in the proportion of fully immunised five-year-old children (aged 60-63 months), from 85 per cent in 2009 to 93 per cent in 2014.

Two regions of NSW – the north coast and Blue Mountains – have the lowest percentage of girls who are fully vaccinated against the human papillomavirus in . Both areas have been labelled “at risk” for contagious diseases.

Daniel Holdom charged with murder of Karlie Pearce-Stevenson

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Karlie Pearce-Stevenson and daughter Khandalyce, whose bodies were found in different states, five years apart. Photo: NSW PoliceMother Karlie Pearce-Stevenson’s identity used to rake in $90,000Family’s heartbreaking tribute to Karlie and Khandalyce​The call that gave police the breakthrough

Toddler Khandalyce Pearce was killed not long after the death of her mother Karlie Pearce-Stevenson, whose body was dumped in the Belanglo State Forest in 2008, police believe.

Daniel James Holdom, 41, has appeared in court charged with the murder of Ms Pearce-Stevenson.

Holdom was charged overnight with killing Ms Pearce-Stevenson almost two years before her bones were found in the forest south of Sydney.

It is understood police were able to trace Holdom’s mobile phone as being in the Belanglo State Forest at the time Ms Pearce-Stevenson was killed.

NSW Homicide Squad commander Detective Superintendent Mick Willing said police believed Khandalyce was killed after her mother.

“But we are trying to establish the exact timing,” he told reporters on Thursday.

No charges have been laid over Khandalyce’s death.

Police will allege Ms Pearce-Stevenson was murdered between December 14 and 15, 2008.

“She sustained certain injuries to her body but I can’t go further into those injuries as investigations are ongoing,” Superintendent Willing said.

It is understood that, while the mother and daughter both suffered violent deaths, their injuries were different,

Police have not revealed how Holdom and Ms Pearce-Stevenson knew each other.

However, it is understood Holdom had ties in the ACT. Ms Pearce-Stevenson was last seen in Charnwood, an outer suburb of Canberra, in 2008.

Holdom appeared via audio visual link from Cessnock Correctional Centre, wearing prison greens, on Thursday morning.

His Legal Aid solicitor, Peter Cleaves, told magistrate John Chicken that his client did not wish to appear in court in any form – not even by video link.

But Mr Chicken refused the request.

“Given the nature of the charge I think it’s appropriate that he appear by AVL,” he said.

“It’s not like he is being brought in and paraded.”

Holdom was formally refused bail, although Mr Cleaves did not apply for it on his behalf.

The matter was adjourned to Sydney’s Central Local Court, where Holdom has been ordered to appear via audio visual link, on November 12.

With Newcastle Herald

Winner takes glory, no money after World Cup final

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RWC Schedule: When is the Rugby World Cup final?Full coverage of the 2015 Rugby World Cup

LONDON: The gold onesies have flown off the shelves, Instagram following has exploded ten-fold and the sales boffins are taking calls, not making them, for the first time in a decade.

The Wallabies are winning and is taking notice. Despite the sun shining on the forgotten code of n sport, the vagaries of international rugby mean a few hundred thousand dollars in sponsors’ bonuses and the proceeds from those polyester jumpsuits is all the ARU will bank from a potential World Cup win on Saturday.

“n rugby, really in the last 10 years, has gone through some challenging times,” ARU general manager Rob Clarke said.

“There have been some highlights along the way, but the last decade proved to be pretty challenging. Hopefully, on the back of where we are now, how well the team is performing, and given the level of general interest that is back in the game, I’d like to think we’d be able to leverage that in the near future.”

Win or lose at Twickenham on Saturday, there is money to be made in rugby again. Just not right now. The Wallabies may be red hot but the fact is they will not play another Test until England arrive to play a first ever three-Test series in next June.

That’s a long time to wait to parlay a winning aura into ticket sales, particularly for a business that announced a $6.3 million loss last year.

The SANZAR nations are still in the midst of finalising the new broadcast deal and with no prizemoney on offer for the World Cup winner, the ARU will be shelling out instead of collecting.

Fairfax Media reported on Sunday that the ARU bet $300,000 on a Wallabies World Cup win to cover a $3.1 million bill for player win bonuses.

Clarke confirmed the only concrete dollar figure the ARU could bank on was a “significant six-figure sum” in the form of bonus payments from a handful of the union’s commercial partners.

A number of contracts with sponsors had incentives built in that were triggered when the Wallabies made the quarter-finals.

A run on Wallabies merchandise will help. The ARU’s online store sold out of jerseys and onesies this week, but they won’t be adding any extra zeros to the bottom line.

The flow-on effects will take plenty of time but there are positive signs on a few fronts. Ticket sales for the sevens world series tournament at Allianz Stadium in Sydney this summer spiked these past few weeks, with about 20,000 tickets sold on both days.

Likewise, administrators are expecting to sell out the Moore Park facility for the England Test next year, along with AAMI Park and, it is hoped, Suncorp Stadium.

The only rugby on offer between the sevens and the June Test series will be the enlarged Super Rugby competition, featuring a team from Argentina for the first time.

But it may be too much to expect that newfound interest in the Wallabies will translate into membership growth in the provinces.

“Based on my experience in Brumbies and Rebels days [Clarke was chief executive at both], there is no doubt the performance of the Wallabies at international level has a positive washover into your business at Super Rugby level,” he said.

“People are talking about it, they’re interested in the game, your corporates are wanting to buy suites at games of rugby, there is definitely a positive correlation.

“That said, it is up to each of the Super Rugby franchises to be able to leverage the national success and work it to their own local advantage. But for the first time in a long time we are working hand in glove with the Super clubs and their marketing teams to make sure we can leverage off each other and learn from each other.”

Importantly for Clarke, who runs the commercial and marketing arms of the ARU, his phone is ringing again, which is timely given that the organisation failed to lock in a naming rights sponsor for the admittedly shortened Rugby Championship this year.

“We are currently in discussions with a couple of organisations in the tyre category and we’re also currently in discussions with a couple in the insurance category,” he said.

“Those have been generated over the last two months, and you’d like to think it’s a result of what the team has been building towards. They haven’t concluded as yet but I am confident they will.”

The 2016 Olympics also looks set to provide a tangible boost, with a high-profile cereal company sniffing around the women’s sevens team.

But it is all a long way in the future, no matter who takes home the Webb Ellis Cup early next week.

As soon as the dust settles from the final, attention will turn to the SANZAR broadcast deal, widely tipped to deliver the ARU an extra $40 million a year from next year but still no closer to fruition.

Clarke said he was confident the ARU would be able to marry on-field success with commercial return.

“That’s our job, to make sure, when the team is performing, we can capitalise on it for the game at large. That will be our singular focus.” 

Aidan O’Brien looks to The Championships with Highland Reel

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Sydney target: Irish star Highland Reel could be set for The Championships next autumn. Photo: Pat ScalaEven as Aidan O’Brien attempts to win his first Melbourne Cup with Bondi Beach and Kingfisher on Tuesday, the Irish master trainer is planning his next raid on at The Championships in Sydney next year.

Cox Plate placegetter Highland Reel has been earmarked by O’Brien as a likely contender for the Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

“That is in the [northern] spring. Highland Reel ran a good race in the Cox Plate and I think he might be back down there,” O’Brien said. “Tom [Magnier] said he might go to Hong Kong and then he might go back down in our spring for your autumn races.”

Highland Reel could target the n Cup and Queen Elizabeth Stakes before returning for the summer in England and meetings like Royal Ascot.

“We are going through the program because Dad and the lads are keen [to come to Sydney], Aidan’s keen,”  Magnier, who runs the Coolmore operation in , said.

“We are always keen to find the right horses to come down here.

“It is like the Melbourne Cup, when we have the right horses like this year we want to be there.”

Racing NSW chairman John Messara said if Highland Reel arrived in Sydney it would add to the international profile of The Championships in only its third year.

“It is gratifying to have a horse like Highland Reel and an operation like Coolmore looking at our Championships,” Messara said. “We continued to build and I’m confident that we will have more Japanese and Hong Kong horses next year as well.”

The international nature of the Ballydoyle operation, which is based in Tipperary, will have O’Brien at America’s Breeders’ Cup on the weekend before possibly being in Melbourne for the Cup to see Bondi Beach and Kingfisher.

The Melbourne Cup pair are the workmen of his yard but ask O’Brien about the reason for his Breeders’ Cup trip and he is far more expansive.

Gleneagles, a four-time group 1 victor, will not have top billing at the Breeders Cup meeting. That honour will be shared by Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Golden Horn and Triple Crown hero American Pharoah.

But to O’Brien his Galileo three-year-old, which has won seven from 10, shines. He is set to take on American Pharoah on a surface that is foreign to him, the dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“We all know what a great horse American Pharoah is. He is incredible really,” O’Brien said.

“Gleneagles is an unique horse with the pedigree he has and his race record. His dam is a sister to Giant’s Causeway. He is a lot like Giant’s Causeway to train.

“He is a very strong traveller and he quickens. He is probably a bit quicker than Giant’s Causeway [which was runner-up in a Breeders’ Cup Classic];  whether that is a good thing or not for the dirt I’m not sure.”

Hoffman out to get one over old club

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Newcastle Jets defender Jason Hoffman, getting shaved by barber Chad Sullini ahead of MoVember.JETS defender Jason Hoffman is the nicest man in the A-League. Full stop.

Forever smiling, always positive, rarely, if ever, a bad word to say about anyone.

Fair to say, it takes a lot to push his buttons.

Hoffman returns to AAMI Park on Friday for the first time since being released by Melbourne City, despite having a year remaining on his deal.

To suggest he has a point to prove is an understatement.

‘‘It is always a funny situation when you have a year left on your contract and for whatever reason it doesn’t work out and you move on,’’ said, Hoffman, forever the diplomat.

‘‘Make no mistake, I wanted to return to the Jets. I was desperate to help turn the club around.

‘‘To leave Melbourne and to play them this weekend there is extra motivation to do well.

‘‘First and foremost is the Newcastle Jets and getting three points, but I also want to remind people in Melbourne that I’m better than I was last year.’’

The ‘‘extra motivation’’ line is the closest you will get to a slur from the affable Hoffman, who still has a number of close mates at City.

‘‘It was a great five years in Melbourne,’’ he said.

‘‘First up with the Heart and then thechangeover with Manchester City coming in.

‘‘I had to leave Newcastle and the comfort of home to mature and grow up as a person. It has helped me mature as a footballer, too.

‘‘I guess you could say I learnt my trade in Newcastle and developed in Melbourne.

‘‘Now I have come back at a prime age to perform for the Newcastle fans.

‘‘This week I will be looking to get one over the old club.’’

The Jets have been the surprise packets of the league, notching two wins, highlighted by a 1-0 triumph over champions Victory, to be perched second on the ladder a point behind Sydney.

‘‘A lot of people wrote us off, and I guess they have been surprised by the first three weeks and how we have managed to pick up points and how we are playing,’’ Hoffman said.

‘‘They have been waiting for the wheels to fall off, but we are confident in what we are doing and we are confident no matter who we play.

‘‘That showed against Victory. We have stuck to the structure. We are disciplined and are focused on turning things around.’’

The Jets are likely to head to Melbourne without Brazilian Leonardo. The attacking midfielder has a knee injury and sat out training on Wednesday for a third straight day.

Lee Ki-je (hamstring) completed the session and barring a mishap is expected to be fit. Ben Kennedy was in goal for most of the tactical work as Mark Birighitti continues his recovery from a facial injury.

A striker when he began his A-League career at the Jets in 2007, Hoffman made the switch to right back in Melbourne and is part of new-look defensive unit.

‘‘The defensive side of the game was something I had to learn,’’ he said. ‘‘We have certainly been tested in the first three rounds this season. It was a good performance against Melbourne Victory, but also in the first two games against Sydney and Wellington.’’

The priority on Friday is limiting the influence of in-form City duo Aaron Mooy and Bruno Fornaroli.

‘‘They have made a few changes with how they are trying to build up and play through the lines,’’ Hoffman said. ‘‘Aaron Mooy is a massive part of Melbourne City, but they have new striker, Bruno Fornaroli, who was outstanding against the Mariners last week.

‘‘David Williams is back from injury and has blistering pace, Jacob Melling is a good young player who likes to get on the ball, young Stefan Mauk has come of age in the past few weeks.

‘‘They have plenty going forward and we will definitely have to be focused.’’

Hoffman’s focus was elsewhere on Wednesday.

The defender is the Jets’ ambassador for men’s charity Movember and went under the razor on Wednesday in preparation.

‘‘I was more nervous getting that then playing football,’’ he said.

Show day costs tallied up

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HUNTER Business Chamber has upped the ante in its war with Newcastle council over plans for a public holiday to coincide with next year’s Newcastle Show.

Chamber boss Kristen Keegan took her campaign to State Parliament on Wednesday armed with a new report she says shows that a public holiday will cost the council almost $500,000.

Newcastle council staff already get a ‘‘show day public holiday’’ regardless of whether the public holiday is official. It was traded into the council’s employees award many years ago.

‘‘The council’s employee costs are $93,712,000 a year or almost 40 per cent of total annual expenditure,’’ Ms Keegan said.

‘‘If we estimate that there are 250 working days in a year, then the average daily cost for employees is almost $375,000. This is the direct community cost of giving every Newcastle council employee the day off.’’

But those costs were higher, she said, because some council staff had to work on public holidays and were paid a ‘‘minimum of double time or more in some instances’’.

The cost of paying garbage collectors on a public holiday doubled from $24,500 to $49,000, she said, while beach inspectors, parking rangers and other ‘‘essential’’ workers would earn penalty rates for working.

Adding to the cost is the $2500 to advertise the council’s community consultation program for the full public holiday proposed for March 4. Included in the consultation is a large amount of staff time, face-to-face meetings with businesses and preparation of reports, which Ms Keegan estimates will cost the council a further $30,000 to $40,000.

‘‘This is the real cost to ratepayers of what the council is seeking but they’re not telling anyone that,’’ she said. ‘‘And what’s the point of spending all that money on public consultation when they’ve already decided to apply for a public holiday anyway?’’

The council’s consultation period ends this week.

Melbourne Cup 2015: Bondi Beach and Kingfisher worth a trip to China, says Aidan O’Brien

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The best indication of the strength of Aidan O’Brien’s challenge for this year’s Melbourne Cup is that the Irish trainer is preparing to fly 32 hours to be trackside to watch Bondi Beach and Kingfisher at Flemington next Tuesday.

O’Brien will be at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, over the weekend as his favourite horse Gleneagles takes on triple crown winner American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Sunday morning, but he has already made inquiries about getting to .

“It is a possibility. It would be a 32-hour travel but I won’t be sure until Friday,” O’Brien said.

“We have two nice horses down there and we are happy with both of them. We think they are two quality horses.”

Ladbrokes have Bondi Beach and Kingfisher in the second tier of chances for the Cup – Bondi Beach is $17 and Kingfisher at $26 – which is a fair way from $4 favourite Fame Game.

The n influence on O’Brien, in particular from owner Lloyd Williams, has him keen for success and to be at Flemington.

“It would be unbelievable [to win] but I don’t like to think about it that way too much. We know how hard it is to win a Melbourne Cup. We are doing our best to prepare the horses and obviously guided by everybody [around the team],” he said.

Williams taking shares in a group of horses has helped lead to Bondi Beach and Kingfisher racing in the Melbourne Cup.

“I have been talking to him about being here,” Williams said. “He has been working on getting Kingfisher here for a long time and Bondi Beach is wonderful chance.”

O’Brien hasn’t been back to Flemington since the infamous 2008 Melbourne Cup, which produced Bart Cummings’ 12th and final winner Viewed.  The head of Ballydoyle was questioned by stewards about the tactics of his three runners, which finished near the tail.

“We learnt a little bit more about the race and the horses,” O’Brien said about 2008.

Tom Magnier, Coolmore’s head of racing in , said the Melbourne Cup had always been at the centre of the conversation and the seven-year itch had got the better of the team.

“We said when we found the right horses we would come back and we were always looking forward to coming back. To be fair to Aidan and the lads, they say they have found the right horses,” Magnier said.

O’Brien is measured and concise as he talks about his horses. He has been in constant contact with his team and Williams since they arrived.

“I have known Lloyd for a long time and obviously we admire Lloyd. We talk about horses and training and different types of horses. He is a very wise man,” O’Brien said.

“His knowledge of preparing a horse, the things to do and not to do, and what you need down there is important.”

O’Brien returns to the Melbourne Cup with the confidence from the past two Cox Plates, winning with Adelaide last year and the brave third of Highland Reel to Winx last Saturday. He has had five Melbourne Cup runners and Mahler, which was a three-year-old like Bondi Beach, was his best result when third to Efficient in 2007.

Bondi Beach has had only five starts for two wins and three seconds. It is a career that only began at Leopardstown in May and his most recent outing was a controversial runner-up finish in the English St Leger. It was where Mahler had his last run before his Melbourne Cup.

“Bondi Beach is a relatively inexperienced horse but we think he is a very progressive horse,” the trainer said.

“He is a good traveller, a strong colt, a hardy horse and he has been very good in all of his starts. He is a colt who tries hard, he is very competitive.”

Kingfisher is a year older but carries a significant form reference of being second in Trip To Paris’ Ascot Gold Cup, when he was badly held up for much of the straight. He was also second to in last year’s Irish Derby.

Trip To Paris franked the form in  when he beat all but Mongolian Khan in the Caulfield Cup, which was another pointer to the chances of Kingfisher, which O’Brien believes will relish the n conditions.

“Kingfisher loves fast ground,” O’Brien said. “We felt he would like the conditions in Melbourne. We think he is a very nice horse and we were delighted with him at Ascot.”​

These horses were identified as possible Melbourne Cup types at the beginning of the year. It is a long progress to get to Melbourne and then the travel can its toll as did on Kingfisher.

“Kingfisher didn’t have a straight-forward trip to Melbourne,” O’Brien conceded.

“Bondi Beach travelled better than Kingfisher but everything has come right in the last few days.

“Kingfisher’s blood and everything is good and the lads in Melbourne have done a great job with both horses. They are going good now.”

Fugitive father and sonbehind bars after evading police for eight years

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Gino Stocco, left, and his son Mark after their arrest.A SIGHTING of an abandoned ute in dense bushland and a missing person report in Sydney were the two crucial jigsaw pieces that led police to Gino and Mark Stocco’s hideout on Wednesday morning.

After eight years on the run, the father and son fugitives were captured by heavily armed police on Wednesday at an extremely remote property near Elong Elong, 50kilometres east from Dubbo in central NSW.

Described by police as modern day bushrangers, the dangerous pair were wanted for a string of violent and property crimes across three states.

They had led police on a wild chase across NSW and Victoria since allegedly shooting at officers near Wagga Wagga on October 16.

Hours after the dramatic arrest on Wednesday morning, police discovered the ‘‘fairly decomposed’’ body of 68-year-old Rosario Cimone on the rugged property, Pinevale.

Fairfax Media understands he was an Italian-born caretaker who had worked with the Stoccos at Pinevale and disappeared four weeks ago.

As they were surrounded by tactical officers and dragged from the ground, the Stoccos claimed ‘‘self defence’’ when confronted about Mr Cimone’s death, Fairfax Media has been told by a police source.

Mr Cimone’s sister had made a missing persons report at Green Valley police station, in western Sydney, on October 8.

‘‘All we knew was that he was missing, we’d been trying to call him for days without luck,’’ a relative said last night.

Police visited the property, which the Stoccos had worked on as recently as the October long weekend, but they couldn’t find the caretaker.

Then, on Tuesday, an Elong Elong local reported a white ute, similar to the one stolen by the Stoccos in recent days, parked suspiciously in the Goonoo State Forest not far from Dunedoo.

That ‘‘put the final pieces of the jigsaw together’’, Acting Assistant Commissioner Clint Pheeney said.

Tactical operations officers surrounded the Pinevale property, which backs onto the Goonoo State Forest, on Tuesday afternoon and covertly monitored the Stoccos for 16 hours before striking.

‘‘They did not surrender to police or hand themselves in,’’ Mr Pheeney said. ‘‘There was some resistance to the arrest and as a result of the arrest, some minor injuries, which are still being assessed at Dubbo Base Hospital.’’

The manhunt for the Stoccos had covered thousands of kilometres in the past 12 days, with the pair last sighted on Saturday night filling up at a South Gundagai petrol station, 500 kilometres away from Elong Elong.

However, a spur-of-the-moment decision in recent days to return to the remote Pinevale property would prove to be their undoing.

Locals described the property, down a hidden bush track, as hard to find and ‘‘the perfect place to hide’’. The owner would visit no more than a few days a year, a farmer, Matt O’Leary, said.

‘‘It’s not something you drive past at all,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a pretty good hiding spot.’’

Mr Pheeney said it had been a ‘‘very intense operation’’ and police would continue to comb the 385-hectare property, looking for firearms, ammunition and evidence for what is now a homicide investigation.

‘‘They knew the bush very well, they knew all the ways and times to avoid police,’’ he said. ‘‘[But] it was only going to be a matter of time before we tracked them down.’’

Horror holiday: Staying in famous haunted hotels for Halloween

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The haunted Stanley Hotel in Colorado, USA. Photo: Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo The haunted Stanley Hotel in Colorado, USA. Photo: Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

The haunted Stanley Hotel in Colorado, USA. Photo: Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

The haunted Stanley Hotel in Colorado, USA. Photo: Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

Sometimes you get an unexpected bonus with your luxury accommodation. I don’t mean a Nespresso machine or a bottle of Taittinger​ by the bed. I mean something more ectoplasmic. As in a ghost.

I was once staying in a medieval castle in Burgundy, France, one that had been turned into a rather sumptuous hotel. After dinner I returned to my room, after a day of cycling around vineyards.

I was lying in bed when a visitation appeared by the window. I can’t say exactly what it was but I sensed it was male and young, dressed like Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. (And, no, Puligny Montrachet doesn’t make me hallucinate. And it wasn’t wishful thinking.)

I was more irritated than frightened. I was bone tired, keen to get to sleep. The presence of a ghost had the potential to disturb my circadian rhythms. “Oh, go away will you?’ I said out loud and put the silk covers over my head. I suppose he obeyed me.

Why am I recalling ghosts today? Because it’s Halloween – which happens to be my favourite holiday and favourite time of the year in north-east America, when the beauty of the fall season coincides with the splendid absurdity of thousands of revellers dressed as Donald Trump (this year’s most popular ghoul.)

According to the festival’s Celtic roots, the end of the harvest ushers in the darkest half of the year, and there’s a window of time when cracks appear between the earth and the fairy world, allowing all the demons and ghosts to spill out. That’s traditionally sunset on October 31 to dawn on November 1.

If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people lining Sixth Avenue watching the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade (which began in 1974, initiated by puppeteer Ralph Lee) you might very well begin to believe that the crack between earth and fairyland has opened up.

I knew a Frenchman who arrived in New York on Halloween and, fighting through the crowds to get to his Greenwich Village sublet, imagined this was just a normal night in New York. In the 1980s it was.

Halloween may be a frivolous celebration, but it’s not difficult to get caught up in if you’re travelling in the northern hemisphere, where it’s celebrated from Hong Kong to Derry City. In Mexico, it’s the Day of the Dead, surely one of the most dazzling and disturbing festivals anywhere.

October is a reflective time that has its own melancholy beauty as the seasons change. This may not mean that ghouls rule, or the ghosts in French chateaux suddenly all materialise, but I find all that mulch and mist does tickle the imagination a bit.

Instead of collecting candy corn, how much more fun would it be to visit some really creepy places, such as cemeteries, old penitentiaries, crypts and catacombs? I especially love churches with dusty reliquaries and shrines, especially if there’s a cobwebby corner featuring bones of a saint.

Many European churches are famous for their bejewelled “catacomb saints”, skeletons dug up from the Roman catacombs in the 16th century and dressed up in precious jewels and expensive fabrics and then sold on by the church to the wealthy, unsuspecting faithful as saints. It was a fabulous racket and it left a trail of truly grotesque specimens that are more authentically creepy than any Freddy Krueger costume.

Then there’s the 1000-year-old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, with its crumbling, erupting tombstones, one of my favourites. Or the magnificently macabre cemetery of Pere Lachaise​ in Paris, with its streets of crypts, whole neighbourhoods of the dead. And the spectacularly terrifying Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, which contains almost 10,000 corpses and mummies, some in bizarre, contrived poses.

This year, Airbnb ran a bidding war for a night in the ossuary room of the Paris catacombs, where the lucky winner could be wined and dined and bedded down among the skulls.

If you missed on that experience, there are many ways you might be able to rustle up your own personal spectre, as I did in Burgundy. Some hotels, such as the Hollywood Roosevelt, the five-star Langham in London, the Fairmont Banff Springs, the Chelsea in New York,  the Stanley Hotel in Rocky Mountain National Park, setting of Kubrick’s The Shining, and Melbourne’s Hotel Windsor are famously haunted and, where this might not be something they usually promote, this time of year it’s a selling point.

It makes new sense of the term “horror holiday”.

Young Warriors teammates Bhana, Cook to join Knights

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TWO years after emerging as one of New Zealand’s most promising prospects, back-rower David Bhana is set to join the Knights in search of a fresh start.

In 2013, Bhana captained the Junior Kiwis in a 38-26 Test loss to the Junior Kangaroos, just weeks after he skippered the Warriors under 20s to a 42-30 defeat in the National Youth Competition grand final against Penrith.

He was named on the bench in the NYC 2013 team of the year, which also included the likes of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Luke Brooks, Bryce Cartwright, Jake Trbojevic, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Michael Lichaa.

Described as the “next Simon Mannering” by New Zealand media because of his high defensive work rate, Bhana has spent the past two years in the Warriors’ NRL squad.

But the closest he came to a top-grade debut was being named several times on an extended bench.

The 22-year-old, who stands 183 centimetres tall and weighs 96 kilograms, told New Zealand’s Maori Television on Wednesday that he would be playing next season with Newcastle, along with a former Warriors NYC teammate, halfback Sam Cook.

“It was a hard decision, but I had to think about my family,” Bhana was quoted as saying. “That’s just how professional footy is.

“They’ve been doing a lot of recruiting in the off-season.

“They didn’t have a good 2015, so I’m excited about the rebuild.”

Bhana and Cook are former teammates and childhood friends of Newcastle’s NSW Cup prop James Taylor.

New Knights coach Nathan Brown said last month that the club had “a little bit” of room to move under the salary cap and were looking to recruit a prop and an outside back.

Since then they have released hooker Adam Clydsdale to Canberra but are yet to supplement their ranks with any imports boasting first-grade experience.

As well as Bhana and Cook, the only other player the Knights are reported to have signed is 20-year-old five-eighth Will Pearsall from Manly. Yet to appear in the NRL, Pearsall captained Manly’s under 20s last season and played junior football for The Entrance.

Brown may have further funds to bolster his roster if former NSW Origin winger James McManus is forced to retire. McManus, who has one season to run on his contract, has been weighing up his options after a series of concussions caused him to miss the last six games of Newcastle’s 2015 campaign.

Newcastle’s two main recruits for 2016, halfback Trent Hodkinson (Canterbury) and prop Mickey Paea (Hull FC), were both signed before former coach Rick Stone was sacked in July.

Stone also signed veteran back-rower Todd Lowrie, but it is understood Lowrie is considering retiring from playing so he can take on the position of Newcastle’s under-20s coach.

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