Willis's Walkabouts Top-Level Menu


Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 43, August 2009

This newsletter has been a work in progress for three weeks. Every time I thought I had it ready to go, something else happened or I found something else worth a special mention. There's so much here that you may want to come back to it a couple of times.

I've just finished the first major revision of the newsletter list since last year. It would be a minor miracle if I got it perfect. Please accept my apologies if you get two or if I've accidentally sent you one you didn't want. More info in the final section of this newsletter.

Willis's Walkabouts

In this issue

walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au - The End of an Era

When I first got email back in 2000, I chose a local provider, AIS, and got the email address walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. They also hosted my website. As time went on, they lost more and more businesses to larger operators. Small as they were, their servers kept getting attacked by hackers. In the end, it cost them too much time and money to keep their web server running. I changed to another host a few months ago.

walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au is the last outside email address that they host. They've kept it alive for now to allow me to change my contact details wherever I can. I've changed it on the contact form on our website, but it is still on other pages - too many for me to find them all easily. It will be completely removed when the new website goes live. The next time the AIS server goes down, the walkabout@ais address will finally be dead. Please don't use it any more.

New email address. You can now contact us at either of the following

If you want to send an email to the internode address, replace the word "at" with the symbol "@". I am trying not to put that address any place where it will be harvested by spam bots.

Return to top

Wild and Bushfires


I've been advertising in and reading Wild magazine since 1985. It's one publication that I can heartily recommend. I talked about the Victorian Bushfires in newsletters 40 and 41. When I read the current edition of Wild, I found more thoughts which I'd like to bring to your attention. I can't give the full articles because of copyright issues, but Wild has given me permission to publish excerpts from the editorial and a short article by Phil Ingamells. I think they are both well worth reading in full. You can see a list of everything in the issue on the Wild index page. I fear that the authors are right. If we don't speak up, some people will try to use the bushfires as an excuse to destroy the little bush that remains.

The following is an excerpt from the editorial by Ross Taylor in Wild #113, page 5, reproduced with permission.

Black Saturday: Life in the face of fire

"In early 2006 fires burnt through the Grampians and I got the call from my parents; they wanted me to come and help protect the houses on their property on the western border of the national park. I drove up from Melbourne, pushing the speed limits, imagining the worst, then spent the next week waiting nervously with my folks."

.... "On Saturday 7 February, my wife and I decided to drag our mattress into the living room, the only room in the house with air conditioning. .... In our living room, only 40 or so kilometres from the fires, we watched DVDs all day, occasionally flicking across to the news. The day grew hotter - unimaginably hot. As I watched the footage of a fire leaping up a hillside, I thought back to that day in 2006 and knew that there was no comparison between then and now."

.... "Over time, events like Black Saturday fade from collective memory, as does the realisation of nature's power. This is exacerbated by the fact that our modern, first-world existence insulates us from nature so effectively that we begin to believe that we are invulnerable."

.... "what is most important to us? Is it the environment? Our lifestyle? Our safety? Are these claims incompatible or can we find a way to have all three? Only the future will tell, but hopefully the Royal Commission into the fires will come up with some answers, and these answers will seriously consider the repercussions for the bush we love."

The following is an excerpt from the article by Phil Ingamells in Wild #113, page 57, reproduced with permission.

No ordinary day

.... "any approach that sees the bush as just a fuel problem has terrifying implications. We are the guardians of a 500-million-year-old evolutionary heritage that has left us with around 100 000 different species in the surviving natural areas of Victoria."

.... "We have to learn how to live with nature, how to support it against the perils we have brought to bear, and how to respect its capricious and sometimes dangerous moods. It won't be easy, but it is a task worthy of our time on earth."

The Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) website has some good information. In particular, their page on the bushfires has useful information and links to yet more info. If you want to help save what's left of the Victorian bush, I strongly recommend you have a read.

The ACF made a submission into the Royal Commission investigating the fires. Parts of it are a bit technical, but the conclusions ae anything but. Many of the proposals currently being circulated will, at best, have little effect. At worst, they could make future fires substantially more destructive worse than they would be if we continued as at present. Their submission is well worth a read.

The link in the previous paragraph takes you direct to the report. If you'd like more general information on the Victorian forests, their Victorian Forest page has more info and links to other pages with still more.


As long as I'm mentioning Wild I thought I should mention two other pages on their website that you may find useful.

Finally, two of the authors in the current edition each did one of our trips this year. Judy Clayton did our Karijini trip in April. Grant Dixon did our Bachsten-Charnley trip in July. If you are interested in what they thought of the walks, I've scanned the pages with the comments they wrote in my comments book at the end of their trips.

Judy's Comment

Grant's Comment

Bushfires in the Top End

Most of the Top End gets burnt every year. Our vegetation and wildlife has adopted to frequent fires, albeit not as frequent as they have been in recent years. Although our bushfires are much less intense than those which destroyed so much of Victoria early this year, they are getting worse. The average annual number of fire bans has more than doubled in the last fifteen years. The reason is the take off of gamba grass a horrible weed which burns far more intensely than native grasses. If it continues to spread, the Top End native woodland will disappear. Click the either of the links in this paragraph for information from the NT Volunteer Bushfire Fighters website. Fortunately, to date, gamba grass has been well controlled in Kakadu.

Return to top

Availability and Special Offers

The following trips are probably the only Australian trips with space available which will run between now and Christmas. I have to say probably because I may still be able to take charters.

The first trip follows on shortly after a special Charles Darwin Symposium: 22-24 September in honour of the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Registration is free, details in the link in this paragraph.

The two Kakadu Highlights trips mentioned above take place in the Build Up, our most dramatic season. Here's a verbal picture of what you'd experience if you came along.

Dawn. The pleasant temperature evaporates with the sun. Huge clouds grow as the land swelters below. Suddenly, a wind springs up and the temperature crashes. Rain buckets down as lightning flashes and thunder roars. Then, as quickly as it began, the storm passes. Frogs call and birds sing. The land turns green, almost as you watch. All nature rejoices in the change.

Our Build Up trips run at a leisurely pace which suits the weather. Long lunch breaks and lots of swimming make the heat and humidity bearable, even enjoyable, for most people. The sights, sounds and scents as the land turns green make it a wonder. I (owner Russell Willis) enjoy our Build Up trips so much that I will run either (but not both) of the two Kakadu Highlights trips above for as few as three people with no additional charge. You spend the final night relaxing on a houseboat on both. Have a look at our Mary River Houseboat Photo Gallery and see what it's like.

Special offer. There's more. I'm so keen to do one of these, that I'm extending our 20% advance purchase to the first four people who book either trip.

If you'd like a bit more info about the Build Up, log onto the Kakadu National Park website, click the "Six Seasons" link at the bottom of the page, then click "Gunumeleng" in the round table. Click the "Experience" link on the left for a bit more info.

Return to top

2009 Overseas Trips!!!

I had to cancel the South Africa trip because of a lack of bookings. That was simple. The saga of South America has been unlike anything that's ever happened before.

In early July, I cancelled the trip on the website, but the next day I had two new enquiries who seemed very keen. I hastily put it back. The next deadline arrived. As it did, I got another three enquiries so I kept it alive once more. Finally, I could wait no more and cancelled the trip. An hour after I made my first refund, two more people called to confirm their bookings. Since then, another has cancelled and two more have confirmed. It now looks as if it will go ahead.The dates have changed slightly. The link below gives you the updated trip notes.

Patagonia: South America: 6-8 weeks: December 2009 - January 2010

Given all the hassles, for the first time ever I am offering a special discount on an overseas trip. If I get an average of seven people for the entire trip, I'll give everyone a 10% discount. (I've currently got six.)

Although I hope to be able to lead this trip myself, there is a chance that this will not be possible. In that case, I need a Spanish speaking guide. I may already have one lined up, but it's not certain. In any case, I could offer more trips to South America if I had more Spanish speaking guides.

If you speak Spanish and think you would be qualified to lead such a trip and that might be interested in leading this or a similar trip, please have a look at the trip notes, then get back to me as soon as possible.

Return to top

2010: The Program, the Website and the 'Bible'

The Program

For the first time since 1992, we may have to make major changes to our program, adding new trips and dropping old ones. We'd like to know what you think would be the best way for us to do this.

In recent years we have only run 20-30% of the trips we offered. The people who booked have chosen which trips will run in which year. There has been no obvious pattern as to which trips would run. A trip might not have a single booking for five years, then suddenly it fills up. Another trip might run for four years in a row, then suddenly have no interest at all. Combine that with a few possible new trips and I have to make some changes, maybe some very big changes.

Click this 2010 Draft Trip List link and you'll get a Draft trip list for 2010. All prices are 2009 prices. I will do my best to run any trip which gets a booking before the list is finalised at the old price.

What do you think? Read on for a chance to have your say.

The New Website

The new website is almost ready to go live and replace the old. We still need to give it a few tweaks. Your suggestions will help us do that.

Video. Several people have suggested putting short video clips on the website. We don't have any. If you've been on one of our trips and have some video footage that you think might go well on our website, please email it to one of the addresses in the first section of this newsletter. Any video used will be credited to the photographer.

What do you think? Read on for a chance to have your say.

The 'Bible'

"The Bible" - not my words, but ones which many people have used to describe our Bushwalking Guide. The Bushwalking Guide contains essential information which everyone who does one of our trips must read before coming. It's so important that we require people to sign a statement saying that they have read it or will read it before the trip before they are allowed to come along. It is available in both electronic and printed forms.

Sending the electronic version is faster and it's easier to update, but the printed version might be easier to read.

What do you think? We'd like your opinion.

We need your help

I've put out a new questionnaire covering these issues. Clink the link in this paragraph and you'll go to the questionnaire. I'd like as many people as possible to reply to the first three pages of questions (multiple choice). I'd also like to reward the best suggestions for those with the time and inclination to do a deeper analysis of the website and Bushwalking Guide.

I will give discount vouchers to the value of up to $2000 for the best suggestions as to how best to improve the new website and how best to improve the Bushwalking Guide. That's the good news. The bad news (maybe) is that I will make a subjective judgment as to how much each suggestion is worth. The vouchers will be awarded for suggestions which I feel will make a real improvement to the website and/or Bushwalking Guide. As with previous vouchers, you won't get anything other than an email in writing. You'll have to ask for the discount when you make a booking.

Return to top

2010: What's Happening - Good News & Bad

The Bungle Bungles: Good News and Bad

The bad news. Once upon a time we were given verbal permission to do walks anywhere within the Piccaninny Creek catchment. This was, unfortunately, never put in writing. I've been given a map showing that we are now restricted to Piccaninny Creek and the tributaries that join it above the car park walking track. We can no longer visit those creeks which join Piccaninny below that point. . I was told that an agreement hasn't been made with the traditional owners to access the other areas. This means that well over 90% of the park is out of bounds to bushwalkers. If you think that's a bit too much, please contact either or both of the following and tell them so.

The good news. We've not only got permission to run our Bungles in the Wet trip again, we've already got bookings. This was one of the best trips we've ever run. I'd been to the Bungles at least a dozen times before but doing this was like goiing somewhere I'd never been. Piccaninny Creek was up and down like a yo yo. Flowing waterfalls were everywhere. We were wet, but we were warm. If you'd like a taste of what it was like, please have a look at our Bungles in the Wet photo gallery

Food Drops: Good News and Bad

Two of our longest and most interesting Kakadu trips: Kakadu Super Circle No. 1 in January and Kakadu Circle No. 1 in May require us to put out a food drop in early to mid November if the they are to run.

The bad news. The amount of work needed to put the drops where we have been leaving them is so much, that I won't do it again for less than ten confirmed bookings by November.

The good news. I think I've found a much better place for the drops, one which doesn't require anywhere near as much work. If we can use it, both trips will become easier and more flexible. Better still, we offer a 25% advance purchase discount on Kakadu Circle No. 1 for bookings made before the food drop goes out.

Kimberley Trips

I can't do this one as a simple good news and bad. It's far too complicated for that.

I led our Charnley and Munja-Bachsten trips this year and thought they were both excellent. Those taking part all said they enjoyed them in spite of the long drives. A night at the Bachsten camp made a wonderful break between sections. I'd love to do it again, but I've been told that the track and the camp might or might not be open again next year. Neither of the two airstrips which might shorten the drive substantially is likely to be open. Only time will tell what we can and can't do.

For the first time since 2003, we were able to run an overnight walk on Mornington Sanctuary run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Mornington has a lot to offer. I hope to repeat that and lengthen our stay at Mornington in 2010. I've already got two confirmed bookings on the Gibb Road Gorges trip that visits Mornington so it's looking good.

Driving from Darwin to the Kimberley during the wet season can be problematic. In 2008, I was stuck on the Kimberley side of the Victoria River for three extra days. (It was fantastic to see the country around the Victoria River when it was in flood.) A new bridge over the Victoria River is now nearing completion. It's five metres higher than the old one. Multi-day delays should become a thing of the past when it opens later this year. That's going to make our Green Kimberley Light in February a better trip. It will also open up some new possibilities. Watch the What's New page on our website for the first notice.

On further reflection, I not only think the Green Kimberley Light is one of the best trips we offer, I want to do it myself. I want to do it so much, that I'll run it for as few as two people at no extra charge. Doing that may require me to change the dates in the draft notes. I hope to have more by the next newsletter in 6-8 weeks.

Return to top

Free Money - Last Call

In late 2007, I put a detailed questionnaire on line, offering some major prizes and a $50 voucher to everyone who completed the questionnaire. The major winners were notified by email. In a previous newsletter, I explained that the vouchers weren't printed. All the winners had to do was claim the discount when making a booking. To date, only one of the major prizes and about a dozen of the $50 vouchers have been claimed.

Those vouchers are good only on trips booked prior to 31 December 2009. If you want to claim your voucher, you need to do it before then.

Return to top

Kakadu & Kimberley - General Information


The new Kakadu National Park website remains a work in progress. It's well worth a visit for those with time to do some leisurely browsing. If you have a look, I'd be very interested in any comments you have. I'll pass these along to Parks in the hope that they can continue to improve the site.

The new Kakadu Visitor Guide came out fairly recently. It has a wealth of information, well worth a read before visiting the park. You can download it as a printable pdf. If you click the link, be patient, at 14.1 MB, it's a large document. Click here to download the Kakadu Visitor Guide.


The best Kimberley General Information website I have found to date is www.kimberleyaustralia.com. If you've ever thought about visiting the region, whether on one of our tours or on your own, this is well worth a browse.

The website is only part of the story. From the website, you can pay for and download a book which has even more information. I've got a copy (my edition is 194 pages) and am happily working my way through it. Although I've been going to the Kimberley for the past 30 years, I've still found new information. Highly recommended.

Return to top


Feral buffalo have had a tremendous impact on the Top End ecosystems. They were nearly wiped out in the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC) in the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then they have made a come back. The Aboriginal traditional owners of Kakadu have a small buffalo farm in the park which they use as a source of meat. Elsewhere, if uncontrolled, they have the potential do do a great deal of damage.

The issue isn't as simple as you might think. "The people of Arnhem Land have incorporated the buffalo into The Dreaming where they are now considered part of the constellation of Rainbow Serpent creation forces. This makes complete sense, since buffalo have huge impacts on waterways and billabongs as was paralleled with the power of the Rainbow Serpent to carve out serpentine river channels and streams in the Dreamtime. As Altman has observed, "In eastern Gunwinggu myth, and today in bark paintings, there is a Rainbow serpent that has ears (gunemno) and horns (djupanano) identified by Gunwinggu as those of the buffalo. This (serpent) called Inanga is said to have as its mother the Rainbow serpent, and as its father nganaparru (buffalo).""

The quote above was taken from a recent paper, Convergence of Culture, Ecology, and Ethics: Management of Feral Swamp Buffalo in Northern Australia. I found it very informative. Even after 35 years in the Top End, I learned a few new things. If you're at all interested in the subject, I recommend clicking the link above and at least skimming through the article.

Return to top

Aboriginal Culture

David Welch is a Darwin doctor with a keen interest in Aboriginal art and culture. He's published many papers on Aboriginal Art and was one of the authors of a recent book Rock art of the Kimberley : proceedings of the Kimberley Society Rock Art Seminar held at the University of Western Australia, Perth 10 September, 2005, edited by Mike Donaldson and Kevin Kenneally. I thought it was quite interesting. If you're interested, you can order it from the Kimberley Society.

The Summary of Past Talks page which links from the Kimberley Society home page has lots of information about all sorts of things relevant to the Kimberley. Back to the main subject.

David's website aboriginalculture.com.au is a work in progress but it already has a wealth of good information. He has published a number of books, most of which have been based on long out-of-print documents. The latest book Kakadu People by Sir Baldwin Spencer, 1912 adds some modern and many historical photos to the original report. (Two of my photos, both taken in South America made it into the book. If you can't figure out why a photo taken in South America is relevant in a 1912 book on the people of the Kakadu region, you might just have to buy the book to find out.) You can order any of David's books direct via the website.

Return to top

NT Sites of Conservation Significance

I was recently sent a link to a website full of interesting information. The Sites of Conservation Significance in the NT Map has links to papers about 67 different areas. (One of the six links I checked didn't work, but the others did.) Some of the information is fairly general. Some is fairly technical. But, technical or no, if you are planning a trip to the NT either with us or on your own, you'd probably find it interesting to see what's said about the area(s) where you'll be going.

Return to top

Computer Hassles

I have two computers, the one I use most of the time and one that I use mainly for back ups. The newer of the two died recently. It was cheaper to replace than fix so I got a new one and had all the data transferred. Unfortunately, not all of the programs worked properly. It's been maddening. If you know a fair bit about computers and software and are willing to offer some advice, please let me know.

Without a full time person in the office while I'm away, it's getting harder and harder for me to do the long overseas trips. I need to be able to work from almost anywhere in the world, updating info on the website and answering questions. My best guess is that a laptop with some sort of wireless internet connection would be best. When I say wireless, I may be talking about something like a mobile phone connection in each of several different countries. Some of these connections can be painfully slow. I've generally used internet cafes in the past, but these won't normally let you hook your own computer onto theirs.

If you know anything about such things and can give me some advice, it would be much appreciated. Thanks.

Return to top

Personal News

A newsletter like this is not the best place to talk about personal matters, but many of you who receive this newsletter are personal friends. Saying something brief here will allow me to let them all know that something has happened.

Although it's no where near over yet, 2009 has, for many reasons, been a year I'll never forget. But I do forget who I've told what. So, if you are someone who knows me personally and would like to know why this year has been so memorable, please send me an email and I'll give you the news.

Return to top

Special savings - limited time only

Book now and save! As in the past, if you are one of the first three people who quote this newsletter when booking any Australian trip within two weeks of when we sent it out, you will get an extra 10% discount on any trip where your total discounts are 10% or less. You'll get an extra 5% off if your total discounts are 15% or more.

Note 1. There has to be a limit. The maximum total discount on any trip is 35%.
Note 2. This offer does not apply to trips where the special offer specifies no other discounts apply.
Note 3. It's amazing how few people take advantage of this offer. You have to ask to get it.

Return to top

News About this Newsletter

Once again, I've put in a lot of time updating the email newsletter list. I do my best, but I make mistakes. If I've made a mistake with your listing, please accept my apologies, let me know and I'll fix it for next time.

To be consistent, I've changed the setting to send the newsletter from walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. This is the contact accress on our website. If you would like to continue to receive these newsletters, please include this address in your "friends list" so that it isn't blocked.

Emails sent to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au are currently automatically forwarded to rrwillis at internode.on.net. If you want to send an email to that address, replace the word "at" with the symbol "@". I am trying not to put that address any place where it will be harvested by spam bots.

We don't want to add to the mass of email spam. If you don't want our newsletter, please send us an email and let us know. We'll then delete your name from our newsletter list.

Our email address is walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au.

Note. The program we use to send this newsletter has an automatic delete at the bottom. Clicking that link will delete you from the mailing list on the server but it will not delete you from our main database. My newsletter mailing program will not allow the auto delete to send me an email notifying me that a deletion has been made. If you want to be removed from all further mailings, please send an email to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

Return to top

Willis's Walkabouts, 12 Carrington Street, Millner NT 0810, Australia walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

Last Modified Thursday, 01-Apr-2010 12:29:42 EDT  |  Valid XHTML1.0