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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 58, March 2012

Looming deadlines! Never before have I put out a newsletter with so many deadlines — Kakadu submissions, web links that will soon expire and some of my own trips that may soon disappear. Read on. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

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In this issue

Kakadu Update

New Plan of Management

Planning has begun for the preparation of the 6th Kakadu Management Plan.

The current management plan for the park guides management until 31 December 2013. A new plan must then be put in place to guide how the park will be managed for the following 10 years.

As part of the formal consultation process, the public have been invited to provide comments and suggestions on the development of the new plan (Have Your Say process). For more information on the Have Your Say process, go to Have Your Say

Written submissions must be sent by Friday 13 April 2012.

Making a comment before the new draft plan is prepared makes it more likely that things which concern you will be included.

Bushwalking Review

For a variety of reasons, the walking review has been delayed. The consultants presented a draft paper to the committee early this month and have taken a number of suggestions back to do another revision. That will go out for public comment later this year. The one thing I can say for sure is that cultural reasons mean some of approved bushwalking routes will have to be changed. Hopefully this will mean a simple re-routing rather than closure.

The amount of time for public comment may be limited. As soon as the report becomes available, I will send out a newsletter advertising the fact. The more people who respond, the more likely it is that overnight walking in Kakadu will remain one of the major attractions of the park.

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Australian Trips in 2012

Stop Press. Heavy and widespread rain in central Australia at the end of February and beginning of March mean that water supplies will be well above average for our central Australian trips this year. The ABC website has a story about the Todd River flowing again. Yahoo 7 has a similar story. I don't know how long the news items will remain online, but I do know that this will be an exceptionally good year to visit the region.

There have been major changes to our program since the last newsletter.

April: Banggerreng or the 'Knock 'em down storm season'

According to the Met Bureau, April is still the wet season. It's not, but it's certainly not the dry season either. Banggerreng, in April, is the season when the rain clouds have dispersed and clear skies prevail. The vast expanses of floodwater recede and streams start to run clear. Most plants are fruiting and animals are caring for their young. Short, sharp, windy storms early in this season flatten the spear grass; they are called 'knock 'em down' storms. On rare occasions, a late season cyclone will drop masses of rain, prolonging the Wet.

We've still got places available on two trips. Both are definite departures.

May: Yegge or the 'Cooler but still humid season'

The beginning of the dry season isn't like the later part. Yegge, from May to mid-June, is relatively cool with low humidity. Early morning mists hang low over the plains and waterholes. The shallow wetlands and billabongs are carpeted with water lilies. Drying winds and flowering Darwin woolly butt tell the local Aboriginal people that it is time to start burning the woodlands in patches to 'clean the country' and encourage new growth for grazing animals. We already have bookings on two trips at this time.

We've still got places available on two trips. Both are definite departures.


Besides the Kimberley Highlights trip which begins in May, we have bookings on five trips in June.

In Leichhardt's Footsteps: 10-30 June is one of the most exciting trips we have ever been able to offer, retracing the steps of one of Australia’s greatest explorers, Ludwig Leichhardt. Leichhardt’s epic 1844-45 journey took him from Brisbane to the now long abandoned settlement of Port Essington in what is now Arnhem Land. Accompanied by an Aboriginal guide, we will follow a small part of that route through a part of southwest Arnhem Land, finishing near Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu. Although this will be the 8th time we've offered this trip, it will be only the second time it's run. Not only will it run, it's already more than half full. Get in soon if you're interested.

The following trips have bookings, but not enough to guarantee departure. These are the only June trips which are still available.
Better sooner than later. If we can't confirm departure very soon, it is unlikely that we will be able to run all the trips listed below. If you are particularly interested in one of them, the sooner you book, the more likely it is that it will run.

July onwards

All trips are still available. Two have bookings.

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No Dams!

Patagonia Sin Represas

On my recent trip to southern Chile, we found signs everywhere, Patagonia sin represas. this translates as "Patagonia without dams". We've been through it all before in Tasmania, now it's southern Chile. Former dictator Pinochet sold off the water rights to most or all of the major Patagonian rivers to foreign companies. Now there are plans to build huge dams and a 2400 km transmission line to take power to Santiago. If the dams are built, many of the beautiful places we visited on my recent tour to Chilean Patagonia will disappear forever. This is the same kind of tragedy we managed to avert on the Franklin River. At least one of the companies involved, Xstrata, runs some of the biggest mining projects in Australia. Here are some links where you can get some information.

One of the places we stopped was a small farm where they had basic accommodation and camping as well as a good walk. This was the area along the Ñadis River shown in the video mentioned above. The people sold us fresh produce from their garden. Their whole farm, the farms of their neighbours, and the walk we did are all destined to disappear below 20 metres of water unless the dams can be stopped. I wish the Chilean anti-dam campaigners luck. I wish there were more that we could do, but any link I've followed is either non-functional or in Spanish.

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Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Every so often, I come across something special that makes me stop and think. Here is an excerpt from one of those things.

“Regrettably, what has happened in recent years is that ‘pure’ inductive logic has been replaced by that bastardized form of data analysis all too familiar from today’s Dialogue of the Deaf: As time goes on, each side cherry-picks ever more data to strengthen their prejudiced positions. Thus, positions become ever more shrill. Belief modification and dialectical progress are rarely achieved. In this sense, giving young research associates Excel spreadsheets plus the wealth of information accessible from the internet is proving very dangerous to informed debate. ‘Factoids’ are confused with serious logic, and young people are all but clueless about Hume’s imperative: You cannot data-crunch your way to the Truth. Ever.”

While the article is based on the USA, I think it applies equally to Australia (and many other countries). "Gridlock" is not just an American phenomenon, but a result of the changing of the way we process information in the name of Big Data.

You may disagree with some of the author's assumptions, but I found it hard to disagree with the reasoning that followed. If you are old enough to have ever studied a bit of basic logic in school, I suspect it will be the same for you.

Here it is Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?.

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We need better parents

I hope that heading is a little bit provocative.

Many years ago, I was a high school teacher. I recently read an article that concluded while "there is no substitute for a good teacher. There is nothing more valuable than great classroom instruction. But let’s stop putting the whole burden on teachers. We also need better parents. Better parents can make every teacher more effective." Memories of my teaching days and how much easier it was when you had supportive parents came flooding back. How About Better Parents? is worth a read.

I'd like to think that our family trips have a lot more value than an ordinary holiday. We've still got two family trips available this year: Kakadu Family 2: 8-14 July and Kakadu Family 3: 30 September - 6 October.

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Overseas Trips in 2012

At this point, we only have two overseas trips beginning in 2012. Both look as if they may book out so you might need to get in soon if you are interested. At this point, I have no idea whether or not we'll be able to run either of them again in future years.


Our original Vanuatu trip 15 June - 3 July booked out months ago. We have, however, managed to organise a second Vanuatu trip: 10-28 July. We already have bookings but not yet enough to guarantee the departure.


Sweden and Norway: mid July to late August. For years, two of my Swedish clients have been asking when I'd come over to go bushwalking in the northern summer. 2012 is the year. They have kindly offered to do some of the organising and will be coming along on most of the trip. The trip notes include a few photos. The last page of the trip notes was updated on 29 February. The trip will begin sometime between 15 and 21 July and will finish toward the end of August. Return flights are currently available for between $2000 and $2500 but this is peak season so they may start to disappear fairly soon.

If you are definitely interested, it's time to send a $200 deposit. Even if you're not ready to book yet, please let us know if you'd like more information as it comes to hand.


We may be able to run a trip to southern Chile beginning in December. If so, it will be similar to the one I did beginning just after Christmas and will visit the area which will be doomed if the dams mentioned above go ahead. Watch for details.

If you are fluent in Spanish and think you might be interested in accompanying a group as an interpreter, please send me an email. I can't run more trips without more guides or interpreters who speak Spanish.

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The Future of Books

Electronic, printed or both?

Several of the people on my recent trip to South America brought e-books with them. Having seen them in use, I have somewhat mixed feelings.

I'm sure there are other positives & negatives. I'd be interested to hear what others have to say.

In some cases, electronic books can do things that no printed book ever could or will be able to do. Interactive online books can Make Science (and other things) Leap From the Page. I haven't tried any of these myself, but I suspect that they should be able to create a better understanding of some things than printed books and the old chalk & talk classroom ever could.

On the other hand, I enjoy holding a printed book, being easily able to look back to something many pages back and then go forward again. I enjoy browsing in bookstores. Electronic books and on line sales have brought us to The Bookstore’s Last Stand. "Inside the great publishing houses — grand names like Macmillan, Penguin and Random House — there is a sense of unease about the long-term fate of Barnes & Noble, the last major bookstore chain standing. First, the megastores squeezed out the small players. (Think of Tom Hanks’s Fox & Sons Books to Meg Ryan’s Shop Around the Corner in the 1998 comedy, “You’ve Got Mail”.) Then the chains themselves were gobbled up or driven under, as consumers turned to the Web. B. Dalton Bookseller and Crown Books are long gone. Borders collapsed last year."

If the last big chain goes, can the mainstream publishers survive on the small bookstores that remain? Or will they slowly all disappear, leaving only a limited selection in mass market stores like Big W and K-Mart and a small number of second hand shops specialising in out of print oldies?

It's worth a thought. Here in Darwin, we have only a few real book shops. When neither they nor the local library has something I particularly want to read, I get it online. If more and more people do that, how long will it be before the bookshops all disappear?

The number of adults in the United States who own tablets and e-readers nearly doubled from mid-December to early January. I remember when digital cameras first came out. Little by little they became more and more common until some invisible line was crossed and film cameras almost disappeared. Will it be the same for printed books?

And what of the future of e-books? Amazon.com recently removed more than 4,000 e-books from its site after it tried and failed to get them more cheaply, a muscle-flexing move that is likely to have significant repercussions for the digital book market. "The only two essential parties in the reading experience, Amazon executives are fond of saying, are the reader and the author." There are a lot of issues worth thinking about here. I'm not sure what if anything individuals can do other than watch and see what happens.

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New Flights Update

In my December newsletter I noted that Virgin had announced that they would be offering direct flights from Sydney to Darwin from April and that Air North was to begin direct flights from Townsville. Darwin has had more wins since then.

Silk Air, a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, now offers direct flights between Singapore and Darwin. They have good connections throughout southeast Asia as well as anywhere that Singapore Airlines flies. That's a new alternative for people coming from Europe.

Air Asia offers direct flights to and from Bali with connections throughout SE Asia.

A few thoughts on flying ... and more

We take flying for granted these days. When I first came to Australia in the early 1970s, flying was something that few people did very often. My one way airfare to Australia cost me a bit more than 20% of my pre-tax salary. Now, I could get a return fare for less than 3% of the salary of someone doing the same job with the same experience I had then. Once upon a time, airlines made their money from your airfare. Now they need all sorts of other things to make a profit. Even business class has to pay extra for more than one bag in Australia. That's just the start. Now that airlines have realized how much money they can make by selling more than just a seat on their planes, they are coming up with all sorts of income-producing ideas.

We live in a very different world but our world is, in many ways, far more fragile than it was back then. Kill the electronics and everything comes crashing down. A recent editorial in New Scientist began "The sun is gearing up for a peak in activity at a time when technology makes our planet more vulnerable to solar outbursts than ever before." The editorial concluded with "We can take some comfort in the knowledge that the looming maximum is supposed to be relatively weak, but we shouldn't be complacent. In 1859, during an otherwise weak cycle, a solar storm made telegraph wires spark, starting fires. "You've got the opportunity for flares, and they can be big ones," warns David Hathaway of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland."

It's not a question of if we get hit but of when. If you read the editorial, you'll probably agree that the best we can hope for is something big enough to get people to take precautions before the really big one hits.

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Definite Departures?

No trip is really definite more than 60 days prior to departure. No matter how many have booked, there is always a chance that we might get enough cancellations to make the trip unviable. To date, this has never happened, but it is possible. Once the major cancellation fees kick in, we'll wear the loss if there is one.

Unless I am personally leading it and am particularly keen to go, no trip will run without a surcharge unless it has four or five bookings. Five is more common n the more expensive trips where I'd have had to push the prices up still further if I agreed to run a trip for only four.

If we don't have the bookings to run a trip, we notify those who have booked about two months out and give them the choice of transferring to another trip at their original discount or receiving a 100% refund.

It's been many years since as many as half the trips in the program have run. I put them out and see what gets the bookings. There is no pattern I can discern as to which trips will run in which year. This year, two of the trips which will run last did so in 2003, another hasn't run since 2005. Giving you more choice seems to work well.

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Bushwalking Tips

Campfires and Billies

If you can have one, there is something about a campfire that's much nicer than a stove. (Have you ever sat around a stove at night?) For large groups, they are also a lot easier to cook on than a little bushwalking stove. They do, however, make a mess of your billies. Years ago, I learned a way to make the cleaning easier. After cleaning, or when the billy is new, take a bit of ordinary soap, make a bit of a lather and rub it over the outside of the billy. It makes the coating left by the fire come off much easier than it would otherwise.

Have you got any bushwalking tips?

There are many experienced bushwalkers who receive this newsletter. It might be a good way to share ideas. If you have a bushwalking tip you'd like to share, please send it along and I'll include it in the next newsletter.

Bushwalk Australia

Information for bushwalkers from bushwalkers

I recently came across the website Bushwalk Australia. I haven't yet had the time to have a good look, but it has thousands of posts about various aspects of bushwalking from recipes to track notes to notes on equipment to ....

If you have had a good look, I'd like to hear what you think of the site. At first glance, it appears to be a great resource. My first post is already online.

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Climate Change

To the best of my knowledge, no climate change model is yet considered to be accurate at a local level. The one thing that seems to be a common thread is that we can expect more extreme events. The recent floods in southern Queensland and northern NSW could be due simply to natural variation, or they could in part be due to what we've done to the world's atmosphere. Unfortunately, political reality has meant that funds for the studies to try and answer that question, here and abroad, are hard to come by. The NY Times had an article Harsh Political Reality Slows Climate Studies Despite Extreme Year which explained the situation in America. How much better is it here in Australia?

The scientific disagreements about climate change are about details, not about whether or not it is happening. Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools in America. It's reached the point where New Scientist has had a number of recent articles about the fight.

There were other articles as well, but you need a subscription for the others I found. These are all examples of what was referred to earlier in this newsletter — people cherry-picking data to confirm their prejudiced beliefs and ignoring anything that disagrees with those beliefs.

Cherry picking? "Global warming is the most significant scientific and political issue of recent decades. Manchester United is the most significant soccer club of recent decades. Could the two be linked?" You can find the answer at How David Beckham caused global warming: the Manchester United climate model.

Here in Australia, it's almost impossible not to be aware of the floods, but, unless you live in the north, you might not be aware that the wet season is well below average in many areas, especially in the Kimberley. Darwin isn't doing too badly, but it's ben far more extreme than normal. A third of December's rain came in two days. 40% of the January rainfall came in a single day. Over half of the February rainfall came in one day. It will be interesting to see how the Wet finishes but I suspect we'll be far below last year's record.

After watching a few reports about the recent extreme cold snap in Europe, I got curious. Sure enough, parts of Canada have been having above normal temperatures. The normal daily February maximum temperature in Yellowknife in the Canadian arctic is -18.6°:C. As of 16 February, they had had two days above freezing, more than 20°C above normal. Extremes everywhere.

Australia is usually not as extreme as America, but we do tend to move in the same general direction. In America, Activists Fight Green Projects, Seeing U.N. Plot. "Activists with ties to the Tea Party are railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities." It's worth reading the whole article to see just how extreme it's become. Could it happen here? I hope not, but I wonder.

Climate change is causing more change in the arctic than anywhere else in the world. If you didn't see Bruce Parry's Greenland tale on SBS on 29 February, it will be available at SBS On Demand until 14 March. I've been making occasional trips into the arctic since 1969. This year's Scandinavia trip will be another one. It's an area I like. I thought it was well worth watching, presenting what is probably as balanced a view as it is possible to give. If you haven't already seen it, click here and see what you think. (52 minutes)

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Are Mobile Phones Dangerous?

Not necessarily, but sometimes yes.

Mobile Phones and Driving

"Using a mobile phone while driving can be distracting. Research shows that using a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving may increase your chance of a crash by as much as four times." The VicRoads Driving and Mobile phones page has one of the best summaries I've seen. It's illegal to use a hand-held mobile while driving in every state in Australia but hands-free phones are still quite dangerous.

How dangerous? In an American study using simulated driving, "When drivers were conversing on a cell phone, they were involved in more rear-end collisions and took longer to recover the speed that they had lost during braking than when they were intoxicated. Drivers in the alcohol condition also applied greater braking pressure than did drivers in the cell phone condition." That same study found that there were no significant differences in impairment between participants using hand-held and hands-free phones. It's currently legal to use hands-free mobiles in vehicles in Australia.

A more recent American study using actual traffic records rather than driving simulator machines found that some of the risks found in the first study were overestimated, however, "Text messaging made the risk of crash or near-crash event 23.2 times as high as non-distracted driving."

Pedestrians and iPods or mobile phones

"DEATH by iPod is being blamed as a contributing factor to the 25 per cent rise in the number of pedestrian fatalities in NSW." A more recent study from America which looked at accidents between 2004 and 2011 "noted that over the 7 years the occurrence of accidents of this nature showed a threefold increase." An article from the Brisbane Courier Mail states, "People are being injured or killed because they are distracted by texting or talking on mobile phones while crossing roads." there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of similar stories on the web.

Using an iPod or MP3 player while driving, especially with headphones can be just as dangerous (perhaps more so with headphones) as using a mobile phone. An American study found that "IPods are twice as dangerous as cell phones for drivers." In the UK, "Drivers are being warned that they could be prosecuted if caught using their iPod while driving." If you are using headphones, you can't hear many of the sounds around you, approaching traffic, even emergency sirens may go undetected. It's bad if you run someone over because they were too distracted to notice you coming. It's worse if someone runs over you for the same reason.

You ain't seen nothing yet.

If you get distracted or even just drowsy while driving, your car may soon be able to bring you back to attention.

"If Mercedes, BMW and Ford have their way, the new cars they build will be able to port apps, games, music and movies from a smartphone to a car’s entertainment system." On the other hand, "for every potential distraction automakers add, they find themselves having to build in ways to prevent drivers from crashing their new smartphone on wheels: automatically applying the brakes at a traffic light; alerting drivers when a car is in the blind spot, or reading traffic signs and slowing a car as speed zones change." You can see more at Turning to Tech on the Road.

"Later this year, Google is expected to start selling eyeglasses that will project information, entertainment and, this being a Google product, advertisements onto the lenses." I can see why some people might want them, but think how distracting they must be. How many pedestrians will get killed or injured because they were looking at their glasses instead of their surrounds. And drivers — I don't want to think about that.

Who knows just how far technology like this can take us?

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Why Politicians Get Away With Lying

Given the current political situation in Australia, I thought that this was an interesting topic. The short answer is that we let them. "The assumption seems to be that politicians will always lie." That's the beginning of a debate published in the NY Times on 22 January. Here are a few snippets.

I think the full debate is worth a read. If you want to take it a bit further, there is a link to research suggesting that "politicians are better off answering the wrong question well than the right question poorly." All too often we hear what we want to hear rather than what is actually being said.

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The State of the World

Australia is an island. While we ae small enough to take more interest in the rest of the world than the average American, we still tend to pay far more attention to what happens here. Sometimes, however, things happening far away can have very dramatic impacts on our daily lives. What happens to our mining boom if China slows down? What happens to the price of petrol if there is a major conflict in the Middle East? There are lots of things worth thinking about.

John Mauldin, whose free newsletters I've often quoted here, recently sent out one from Stratfor called The State of the World: A Framework. "It identifies three distinct phenomena the world is facing: the European financial crisis, the Chinese export crisis, and Iran's rise to power in the Middle East." One of his most interesting points is that the most powerful country in the world — the United States — is currently unprepared to deal with this new reality. I suspect Australia is equally unprepared.

From near the end, "Three major areas of the world are in flux: Europe, China and the Persian Gulf. Every country in the world will have to devise a strategy to deal with the new reality, just as 1989-1991 required new strategies. The most important country, the United States, had no strategy after 1991 and has no strategy today." It's only six pages, well worth reading.

Stratfor is an interesting organisation, probably one of the best in the world for figuring what's going on and seeing long term patterns that politicians can't or won't see. For a limited time, their 2012 Annual Forecast is available free rather than only to paid subscribers. I don't know how long that will last but if you found the short article above interesting, it's well worth a read. If you like what you see, they offer free weekly reports as well as a paid service.

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Miscellaneous Bits That Didn't Fit Elsewhere

Myrtle Rust

I had a short article about myrtle rust in a newsletter early last year. There are links in that newsletter to information about the disease which continues to spread.

Last July, Wild reported that it had spread into Queesnland's national parks. While it hasn't yet been recorded n Victoria, Victoria's Department of Primary Industries is now urging bushwalkers to keep watch for any signs. Reports can be made by calling the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline 1800 084 881 or by emailing photos of the suspect material, together with a contact phone number and the plant's location to plant.protection@dpi.vic.gov.au

Tarkine Tourism Under Threat?

Wild magazine recently had a short piece about the threats to the Tarkine.

Tarkine Trails is one of the few companies offering pack-on-your-back trips similar to the ones we offer. Mining in the area could eventually put them out of business.

Groundtruthers Wanted

The Huts and Heritage subcommittee of Kosciuszko Huts Association are looking for bushwalkers to find and verify the remnants of old huts and unrecorded sites across NSW’s parks. You can read about it on the Wild magazine news page.

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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 the last newsletter, 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

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

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