Willis's Walkabouts Top-Level Menu


Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 56, September 2011

Kakadu Bushwalking Review — Last Call. And the last call for 2011 and first call for 2012. Since I'm about to head bush, I thought it was important to get the newsletter out while there was still time to respond to the Kakadu questionnaire. I hope you enjoy some of the links as much as I did.

Willis's Walkabouts logo

In this issue

Kakadu Bushwalking Review — Last Call

Have your say.

This remains the most important item which has ever gone into this newsletter.

Kakadu is Australia's largest national park. It was the first park to be owned and jointly managed by the Aboriginal traditional owners. What happens in Kakadu will set a precedent for all jointly managed parks throughout Australia. If you have ever been to Kakadu, think you might ever go to Kakadu, or think your children or grandchildren night ever want to visit Kakadu, it is important to have your say.

Bushwalking in Kakadu is currently restricted to a few specific routes. While some of the traditional owners would like to see it opened up a bit, others would like to see it restricted even more. There are even some who would like to see overnight bushwalks banned entirely. For those who are interested, I have prepared a short paper about the history of bushwalking in Kakadu.

If you have not already done so, please go to the Kakadu Bushwalking Survey and fill it in. Most people will be able to finish it in ten minutes or less. A few who have had particular experiences might take half an hour. The survey closes on 30 September. The response to date has been fairly good but we need more to show that people care about the future of bushwalking in the park.

Finally, there are a few interesting questions I was unable to include in the main questionnaire. If you ever had a problem obtaining a permit to do a walk in Kakadu, please send an email to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. If I can collect enough information about permit problems, it might help improve things in the future.

Return to top

Last Trips for 2011

Only two trips remain available, one in Australia, one overseas.

Our Build Up trips are the most laid back and relaxed that we offer — early starts, early finishes and long lunch breaks sitting by tranquil pools. On Kakadu Highlights No. 12 you finish the trip with a night on a houseboat.
Special Offer. I (Russell Willis) enjoy the Build Up walks so much that I’ll run the full Kakadu Highlights 12 or just the last two sections for as few as 2 people at no extra charge. Join me and see why I think this is such a special time of year.

When I advertised the Build Up trips in the last newsletter, I had one person interested in Kakadu Highlights No. 11 and one in this trip. Not quite enough. It's now too late for No. 11, but No. 12 is still possible.

Patagonia: 4 weeks beginning 30 December. Since the last newsletter, I've gone from three bookings to eight. One place remains available. We'll hire two four wheel drives and use them to explore the area south of Coyhaique. The longest walk should be five days.

Return to top

2012 — First Call

We've now got bookings on four trips. I've done a major revision of the trip notes for three of them and have, with the assistance of Tracey Dixon, created a new photo gallery.

The following 2012 trips already have bookings.

I hope that the new illustrated trip notes will give people a better idea of what the different trips are like. Doing the revisions takes a lot of work. If you have the time to have a look, I'd very much appreciate it if you'd let me know what you think, especially if you are familiar with the old notes without the photos. Any suggestions as to how the notes could be further improved would be much appreciated.

New Walkabouts video

Tracey Dixon has put together a short video about our Kakadu trips. It's less than four minutes. I like it. What do you think?

Return to top


One of our guides, Ed Hill, has spent the better part of a year working with the locals in Vanuatu. He's shortly to return to Australia and is hoping to organise a two week trip back. Ed's draft itinerary includes a 5-6 day walk, a three day canoe tour, then a boat ride to the volcano island of Ambrym to walk south to north, spending two nights on the ash plain to see the two craters. If you think you might be interested, please let us know. Organising this will take a lot of work so it would be good to know that there was some interest before we go too far.

Return to top

Wet Season 2011

The 2011 wet season shattered records in the Top End and Kimberley. Koolpin Gorge in Kakadu did not open until August. Last year, we were able to drive in in May. Over in the Kimberley, things were worse, much worse. Most of the Gibb River Road didn't open until June. The road to Kalumburu and the Mitchell Plateau will not open at all. Here's an email I received from someone who did one of our Mitchell Plateau trips last year.

"The Kalumburu road is open for vehicles under 3.5T up to Drysdale River Station. That's it, and that may be it for the rest of the year. The Kalumburu Road has been badly damaged over many kilometres, parts are still under water. SWEK (the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley, which is responsible for the road) simply does not have the funds that would be required to fix it (about $4 million). You can see some photos of the road (or rather, of where the road used to be) in this shire report."

"After assessing the damage the shire put in a request for WANDRRA funding (Western Australian Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements). After all, this was a declared natural disaster zone. But who knows if the shire will get the funds, and if yes, when. It could be that the road remains closed this year. That means no access to Kalumburu, and no access to the Mitchell Plateau, until 2012!"

"This is an absolute disaster, not only for tourists and the tourism industry. The cattle stations up there can't get any trucks in, not even fuel trucks. They will remain isolated for the whole year and they won't be able to get any of their cattle to market. They are really, really stuck. So are the Kalumburu residents."

Although it is possible to fly into the Mitchell Plateau and some of the other places along the road, having to bring everything in and out by air costs a fortune. By the time the road finally opens again, they will have been cut off for at least 16 months. I wish them well.

On a happier note, although flying into the Bungles in April put the cost of our trip up, we had an amazing amount of water and had the place to ourselves with few flights to disturb the peace. It was our best dry season Bungles trip in years.

Return to top

More on the Weather

A recent article in the NY Times began, "The scale of Hurricane Irene, which could cause more extensive damage along the Eastern Seaboard than any storm in decades, is reviving an old question: are hurricanes getting worse because of human-induced climate change?" Irene is gone and it did cause an incredible amount of damage. The full article Seeing Irene as Harbinger of a Change in Climate is worth a read. It doesn't answer the question but it does give a good description of where the real scientific debate is now.

After Hurricane Irene has passed, there was a short series called What Did We Learn From Irene? The lessons from the storm in America apply just as well, if not more so here in Australia. "A storm equalling Irene’s fury will cause more damage and cost more in the future. There are two reasons. One is that our population’s relentless march to the coast is putting more people and their built environment in harm’s way. Another is that sea level rise is raising the base level of storm surge and storm waves, allowing them to penetrate further inland." Australia has a much greater percent of its population living near the coast than America does. Hurricane Irene caused severe damage at a latitude that would have put it south of Hobart if it had been in the southern hemisphere. what would happen if we has a similar storm move that far here?

Return to top

Our trips too easy for you?

If our trips are a bit too easy for you, maybe you should consider rock climbing. One of my guides sent me a link to a climbing video, This girl is part mountain goat. The video is from 1987. When I started to watch it, I had to pause the video and look her up. The woman doing the climbing is now age 51 with a teenage son. Seems hard to believe that she's survived another 24 years since the video was made.

Another friend who saw it said, "I HATED it. Made my heart race and my stomach melt! She's CRAZY!"

If that comment doesn't put you off, have a look. It's amazing what the human body can do — at least what some human bodies can do.

Return to top

A Fleeting Moment of Fame

Everything you ever wanted to know about Russell Willis but were afraid to ask.

The current issue of Wild magazine has a two page article about me beginning on page 26. If you are curious about the Willis behind Willis's Walkabouts, it's worth a read. (I am, of course, prejudiced in this case.) For copyright reasons, I can't put it on the website so you'll have to look at the magazine if you can find it. However, if you can't find a copy, especially if you are from outside Australia where Wild is unavailable and are interested in the article, send me an email and I'll send a copy.

Return to top

The End of Anonymity

"Not too long ago, theorists fretted that the Internet was a place where anonymity thrived. Now, it seems, it is the place where anonymity dies. .... The collective intelligence of the Internet’s two billion users, and the digital fingerprints that so many users leave on Web sites, combine to make it more and more likely that every embarrassing video, every intimate photo, and every indelicate e-mail is attributed to its source, whether that source wants it to be or not. " Read the full article here.

It's not just the internet. With more and more security cameras going up in more and more places, it won't be long before your every move in a public place is recorded. It's pretty close to that in the UK already.

Too many choices

Somewhat surprisingly, the same forces that are killing privacy are conspiring to make it harder to stay in touch where we want to. A recent column in the NY times Sorry, Wrong In-Box explains how "we’ve become so accessible we’re often inaccessible, the process of getting to any of us more tortured and tortuous than ever." I suspect that things like this will get worse before they get better.

Return to top

Your Health

Bushwalking is good for your brain.

Bushwalking is exercise and regular exercise seems to help the brain focus. In a study comparing athletes and non-athletes in the simple task of crossing a busy street, the athletes did significantly better. "They didn’t move faster," said Art Kramer, the director of the Beckman Institute and a leader in the study of exercise and cognition, who oversaw the research. "But it looks like they thought faster." More good news for everyone who exercises regularly.

Reading that study made me think about how different people perceive themselves. Everyone who does one of our trips fills in a registration form where they are asked to assess their level of fitness. Many put down "about average" (the lowest we accept. They are almost inevitably wrong. When you look at the sedentary lifestyle of most of the population, the average fitness is so low that anyone who does any regular sort of exercise is almost inevitably well above average.


While there is good evidence that small amounts of caffeine are good for you (just like red wine), two researchers recently wrote in The Journal of the American Medical Association, nonalcoholic energy drinks "might pose just as great a threat to individual and public health and safety" as alcoholic ones, and "more research that can guide actions of regulatory agencies is needed."

Some people are much more at risk than others. Caffeine containing energy drinks can go down a lot faster than a cup of coffee, but even coffee can cause serious problems if you drink enough of it. The original article The "High" Risk of Energy Drinks is fairly short an well worth reading as is the article in the NY Times where I found it.

Contagious Cancer

If it can happen in animals, why not people? The plague that's afflicting Tasmanian devils is a contagious cancer. On the bright side, a team that's researching the disease, just won a Eureaka prize, Australia's top science award, for their efforts. Here's the story. Eureka! Devil team claims top research prize.

Return to top

Willis's Walkabouts on Aboriginal Land

Many of the walks we do are entirely or partly on Aboriginal land, some in parks, some outside them. Since the last issue I attended a Board meeting of the Jawoyn Association in Katherine. (One of the current board members has done a number of trips with us as an assistant guide.) Next week, I'll be attending a meeting with the Aboriginal traditional owners of Watarrka (the park that contains Kings Canyon and the park where I'm about to do a ten day walk.) It's far too soon to know what changes, if any, this will make to our program but I'm hopeful that we'll be able to offer at least as much as we have in the past.

One of our trips on Aboriginal Land deserves special mention as several people have said they were interested in doing it next year. In Leichhardt's footsteps follows explorer Ludwig Leichhardt's 1844-45 route from south east of Katherine to where he came off the escarpment near Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu. Most of the route is in Arnhem Land. This trip has only run once, in 2005. If everyone who has said they were interested decided to book, it would definitely happen next year. Unfortunately, some of those who are interested can only do it if it starts one to two weeks later then the currently scheduled 10 June. Others can do it only if the dates remain the same. Still others are happy with either. If we have another massive and/or late wet season, the later date would make it more likely that the track to the start of the walk would be open. If we have an early or light wet season, the earlier date would mean more water.

One of the conditions of getting permission to run this trip is that we employ an Aboriginal assistant guide. One of the members of the Kakadu Board of Management has said he is interested in coming. Things are looking good, but ....

I'm still waiting for the first deposit. The only way to be fair to everyone who has said they are interested is to accept deposits from everyone and fix the date to suit the first four who have a preference. When the date is fixed, anyone who can't make the final date gets a full refund.

This is not a cheap trip to run. The current list price of $3995 with a surcharge if less than seven people book is probably lower than it should be. Getting the group to the start and the drop off vehicles back to Darwin will take at least two full days. We need a helicopter food drop in the middle and pick up vehicles coming out from Darwin at the end. Costly or no, I think this is one of the most interesting trips we offer so I will do my best to hold the list price (don't forget the advance purchase discounts) for everyone who books before I get new transport quotes.

Please don't hesitate to get back to me if you have any questions about this or any of our other trips.

Return to top

Changing Times — Interesting Times

I thought it would be worth continuing this topic from the last newsletter.


Have you ever noticed how economists don't seem to understand the real world. Almost all economic theories are based on perfectly rational consumers and take no notice of emotional reality. I don't think that bodes well for the future.

The world is changing. The old economy is dying. The NY Times had an interesting discussion about possible ways to turn the changes into something positive. We are a lot better off here in Australia, but the message is still relevant.

Many people, including many of our elected leaders, don't seem to understand that we live in a finite world. An economy that depends on more and more people buying more and more things they don't really need will, at some point, collapse. Some say that we have already reached the point where The Earth Is Full. An Australian, Paul Gilding, has written a book about the coming change, The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World. I haven't read it but it sounds interesting. If anyone who reads this newsletter has read it, I'd be interested to hear what you thought of it.

Gilding cites the work of the Global Footprint Network, an alliance of scientists, which calculates how many “planet Earths” we need to sustain our current growth rates. They suggest that we are already using about 1.5 Earths where anything over 1.0 is unsustainable in the longer term. If they right, the crash is likely to come sooner than later.

The New Puritans

The following is about America, but Australia seems to follow the American lead on more and more things. Take note and be warned.

A documentary called Prohibition will go to air in America later this year. I suspect that it will get to Australia in the not too distant future. "Consider how a country with such an appetite for drink could arrive at the point where it would amend the Constitution to outlaw daily private behaviour. A hundred years ago, as Okrent notes, average consumption of alcohol per adult was about 32 fifths of 80-proof liquor a year, or 520 12-ounce bottles of beer. (It is less today by about 15 percent.)" .... "How did a freedom-loving people decide to give up a private right that had been freely exercised by millions upon millions since the first European colonists arrived in the New World?"

A short article, Purists gone Wild compares the rise of prohibition with the rise of the Tea Party in America today. Governor Rick Perry, now a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination has promised "to amend the Constitution in several ways to take away freedoms. One would prevent gays from ever getting married. Another would outlaw a woman’s right to decide when to end a pregnancy. A third would repeal the 17th Amendment, which gives citizens the right to directly elect their senators." Think about that last one. How would you like your state government to nominate the senators from your state rather than give you a choice?

2012 is going to be an interesting year.

Return to top

News About This Newsletter


Before I finish one newsletter, I'm already working on the next. I often find that I've got too many interesting things for a single newsletter. I'm also always looking for other interesting items I can add. I'm particularly interested in environmental issues, especially those which might affect bushwalking and in the technology which is shaping our lives. As I said in one of the sections above, Suggestions welcome.

Sending the newsletter

The program I use to send the newsletters is hosted on the same server that hosts our website. The newsletters are sent from walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. This is the contact address 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.

For some reason, some servers block the newsletters no matter what you try and do. I send these in small groups from my normal email. It's not a simple problem. If anyone thinks they might have an idea how to overcome the problem, I'd love to hear from you.

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 can 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

Finally, if you know someone you think would enjoy this newsletter, please forward it to them. The more people who get it, the more likely it is that I'll be able to run the trips which might interest you.

Best wishes to all,
Russell Willis

Return to top