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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 61, September 2012

Just back from overseas, I'm about to head off again. But, before I go, I wanted to make sure to send out another newsletter as this is my last chance to talk about a few trips. There's quite a lot here besides Willis's Walkabouts. If you know anyone who might be interested in any of the topics I've covered, please pass it along. Willis's Walkabouts logo

In this issue

Last Chance — First Chance

Last Chance — 2012

There are only three trips which are still available. The first two will be definite departures or cancelled by 26 September.

Last Chance — 2013

Speak now or forever hold your peace.

Two of the 2013 Kakadu trips in our draft list can't run unless we put out food drops before the roads close. As I will be away for most of October, I'll need to have most of the preparations done before I leave. this means that the cut off date for confirming or canceling the two trips below will be 24 September. These are the only trips anyone offers which allow you to visit Jim Jim and Twin Falls when the roads are closed.

The Australian part of our trip list has had minimal changes since 1992. That will change.

In some cases, this will be due to access problems. Is it worth spending thousands of dollars and lots of time to try and regain access to areas where we might not run a trip for years? I can't do it all. I have to pick some areas as priorities.

In other cases, it may simply be because I haven't had anyone interested for quite a while. So, if there is any trip in the 2013 draft program you would particularly like to do, please let me know now or it may disappear. If you'd like to do it but only with a different date, please let me know that as well.

First Chance — 2013

New trip. Russell's Light Wet Special: 10-24 February 2013.
Special offer. This is based on a trip I ran for one person in 2010. I can't offer to do that again, but I want to do it myself so I'll run it for as few as two people at no extra charge.
Click the link and read the trip notes to see why.

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The End of Our Overseas Trips?

I hope not, but it may happen. I've been told that my liability insurer has now refused to insure the overseas trips. The insurance premiums were already outrageous in spite of the fact that the liability risks were almost certainly lower than here in Australia. It seems to be a case of Australian companies being unwilling to compete in any way outside of their own back yard. If anyone has any suggestions as to where I might find a firm willing to insure my overseas trips, please let me know.

Having said that, the section on overseas trips below depends entirely on my being able to find an insurer.

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Destroying the Kimberley and Pilbara

The Kimberley

I had this newsletter ready to go when I got some information about the Kimberley in the post. Everything that I love about the Kimberley is under threat. I think this issue is so important that I've added this section near the top. I hope you can help. Here are a few points from the Wilderness Society website.

Both the Wilderness Society and the ACF have active Kimberley campaigns. Here are some good links so that you can better understand what is at stake and what you can do to help protect this wonderful region.

It seems to me that some of what is being proposed makes little or no economic sense. The "develop at all costs" mentality of some of our politicians makes me think that they would be satisfied with nothing less than the destruction of every bit of the natural environment where we go bushwalking. As I said in the first section of this newsletter, "Speak now or forever hold your peace."

The Pilbara

Massive development on the Burrup Peninsula is threatening one of the greatest concentrations of Aboriginal rock art in Australia.

Welcome. Friends of Australian Rock Art (FARA) raises awareness about the Burrup Peninsula, Australia's largest cultural monument, an Aboriginal sacred site. FARA asks people around the world to literally stand up at places of cultural significance in their country, wearing T-shirts spelling out the slogan Stand Up For The Burrup.

There is going to be a Stand Up for The Burrup Global Day of Action on 23 September. You can find more information on the Stand Up for The Burrup Facebook page.

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Rock Art

As many of you will be aware, I have a personal interest in rock art. We visit many art sites in northern and central Australia. We have visited rock art sites in Southern Africa and South America on a number of trips. On my recent trip to Scandinavia, we visited two rock art sites. Here is a selection of some of the more interesting rock art info I've seen recently.


In Sweden, we visited the site at Litsleby in southwestern Sweden. If you want to know more about the site, have a look at
The UNESCO World Heritage listing for the site and/or
The Vitlycke Museum page describing the four rock art sites in the area.

Rock paintings of marsupial lions

For more information about marsupial lions, you might want to have a look at the Thylacaleo website. The creator of that website also has put together a really good website called the Thylacine Museum. That's as much easily accessible information about the Tasmanian tiger as I've seen anywhere.

Some rock paintings may not have been done by humans.

Paintings on cave walls in northwestern Spain are far older than previously thought - some of them more than 40,000 years old, scientists said, raising a possibility that Neanderthals were the artists.

With Science, New Portrait of the Cave Artist tells the story.

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GPS — Beware

A GPS is a valuable tool when you are bushwalking or in a car. It is, however, no substitute for being able to read a map. I've seen several instances where people with maps on their GPS were shown as being somewhere that didn't match the map, e.g. not on a creek or track which they were actually on. "A recent study illustrates a drawback of GPS technology: that it could be causing drivers to become too docile as their navigational skills atrophy." It can happen just as easily to bushwalkers who have lost their navigational skills. When GPS Confuses, You May Be to Blame.

Here's another story making much the same point. Where's Walden? GPS Often Doesn't Know.

One of our guides, Paul Blattman, offered the following observations. "From my experiences with GPS the accuracy of maps is sometimes less than desired. When driving a hire car fitted with GPS, the built in maps didn't have a newly built section of freeway resulting in the voice instructions wanting to keep sending us on a loop in the wrong direction. When bushwalking, I've found the electronic topo maps in my GPS showing features like creeks or tracks in the wrong place or missing altogether. I've also found similar problems with paper topo maps (not necessarily both electronic and paper maps showing the same error simultaneously)." If you are using GPS when bushwalking it is important that you are competent in its use."

Our guides may often use a GPS but every one of them can navigate without it. That's something that's not going to change while Willis's Walkabouts remains in business.

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Australia: Running Out of Luck Down Under

"Australian growth has been dependent on two huge bubbles: a domestic housing market that is one of the most overvalued in the world and a reliance on the Chinese fixed asset investment craze. Despite extraordinary commodity exports, Australia has run current account deficits and has a terrible international investment position. A substantially weaker currency in Australia is inevitable given fundamental factors."

Have I got your attention?

While government debt is low by world standards,"consumers essentially borrow to spend." That quote and the one above are both from a John Mauldin newsletter, Australia: Running Out of Luck Down Under. It's well worth a read. For some of you, it might even give you some ideas which could save you money.

At present, the Australian dollar remains very high. I've just come back from a trip to Sweden and Norway. Prices in Sweden were much the same as here. (You could buy a bottle of Australian wine for what it would cost you here if it weren't on special.) Norway, one of the most expensive countries in the world, seemed only moderately expensive. 3½ years ago, one Australian dollar would get you about 4½ Norwegian kroner. Now it gets you 6. How long can this last? (It got as high as 6.3 while I was there. Maybe the drop has already begun.)

2012 was a good year to travel overseas. Unless the Australian dollar falls dramatically quickly, 2013 will be another good one. And that brings me to our proposed overseas trips for 2013.

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Willis's Walkabouts 2013 Overseas Trips

Scandinavia, Vanuatu, Patagonia, southern Africa

IF I can get liability insurance, we'll offer them all.


Wilderness in Europe? You'd better believe it! The longest walk on our recent trip took across Sarek and Padjelanta, the two largest national parks in Sweden. Bordering them is Stora Sjöfallet, the third largest. Together they cover an area of more than 5000 km2. That's not as big as some of our parks here in Australia, but in European terms, it's huge.

You can find links to several photo galleries from that trip on our Overseas Galleries page. We are considering offering three different trips to Sweden and Norway.

If you think you might be interested in any of those, please contact us and get your name on the list for updates.


The feedback from our 2012 Vanuatu trips was overwhelmingly positive. We will be offering another one 29 July - 15 August. Guide Ed Hill is already working on the new notes. With what we learned this year, the next one should be better still. We may or may not be able to run two trips as we did this year, so get in early if you are interested.

Grant Dixon, a photographer who came along on our second Vanuatu trip this year, has posted a number of his Vanuatu photos on his website. If you're considering the trip, you rfeally ought to have a look.


If you are happy to stick to the major national parks like Torres del Paine in southern Chile, you don't need us. (We are, however, happy to offer advice.) If, on the other hand, you want to get off the beaten track and see spectacular places without the crowds, you might be interested in a trip like the one we began last December. All the photos in the trip notes were taken on that trip.

Why not Torres del Paine? I have many wonderful memories of my walks in the number one trekking park in South America. However, I also remember my last trip where we had to camp next to a huge hostel with 40 rooms, most of which contained six beds. Outside there were 102 tents including ours. Off season, maybe, but I'll never go back in peak season again.

Southern Africa

Where do I begin? I've run so many different trips to southern Africa, I'm not sure what I'd like to do next. Our Overseas Galleries page has links to a number of galleries of photos from some of our trips. Here are some links to the notes describing trips we've done before.

Whatever I do is likely to be a mix of old favourites plus a few new areas. If there is any area or time that particularly interests you, please let me know and I'll see what I can arrange.

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The Future of Books — Yet More

The Antidote to e-Books

Self-publishing has been made easier since the Espresso Book Machine by On Demand Books made its debut in 2006. You can find out more at The Antidote to e-Books.

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Living with the Dingo

While on my last trip to the Centre, I found a copy of a book called Living with the Dingo by Adam O'Neill. His thesis is that eradicating dingoes has been a major contributor to small mammal extinction in Australia. As the top order predator, dingoes keep second order predators like cats and foxes in check. Remove the dingo and cats and foxes breed up like crazy, destroying small animals that once had thriving populations.

That made sense to me so I looked a bit further. I'm not the only one who thinks it makes sense. Here are a few references.

The author notes that big decline in small mammals in Kakadu coincided with an outbreak of heartworm that destroyed the resident dingo population. The book is probably out of print, but if you can find a copy, I highly recommend it.

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I was a high school teacher for 20 years. I think education is important. I also think that our society is, in some ways, putting less and less importance on it. That bodes ill for our future.

"If you compare investments made in education by the United States with initiatives in China and India, Americans have reason to be afraid, very afraid." Starving the Future notes that "Since the end of the recession in June 2009, the "economy lost over 300,000 local education jobs. The loss of education jobs stands in stark contrast to every other recovery in recent years, under Republican and Democratic administrations." We haven't come anywhere near that ... yet. Australia tends to follow America in many ways. This would be one of the worst it could do.

We need to think about both what works and what we are going to need to compete with the rest of the world. A greater understanding of the huge impact the first five years of life has on a child's development is causing a major rethink of pre-school education.

A recent newsletter from John Mauldin states that a college degree is not enough. He is talking about America, but most of what he has to say applies equally or nearly equally here in Australia.

Old jobs are disappearing. A new wave of deft robots is changing global industry. These robots far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other industries are replacing workers in both manufacturing and distribution. Are we ready for the change? Are we even beginning to get ready for the change?

One place where some of the new the jobs are is on the internet. The NY Times recently noted a surge in learning the language of the internet. Some of those jobs can easily be anywhere in the world. Can we compete?

Whatever Happened to Craftsmanship? One kind of job which can't be exported is repairing things. A Nation That's Losing Its Toolbox explains the situation in America. Replace "Home Depot" with "Bunnings" and you have the same situation here in Australia. We need tradesmen but we're not training them. Many of you have had contact with Joanne Pagel who manages my office when I'm away. One of her sons had an apprenticeship where the training was minimal. If it weren't for the fact that he's now working for his grandfather who is taking the time to make sure he masters the necessary skills, he wouldn't have a chance. Something is wrong when things like that can happen.

Very few politicians think much further ahead than the next election. The only way to get them to plan ahead is to insist that they do. Is the Australian public up to that task?

That's enough of my rant — on to something else.

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The Drones Are Coming

On 4 September, the ABC aired a Foreign Correspondent program about drones or unmanned aerial vehicles. I was intrigued. this is a technology that's going to change a lot of things. It will affect you. If you don't believe that, click on some of the links below. This technology has the potential to make dramatic changes to the way we live.

Governments are not ready for what's about to happen. (Are they ever ready for dramatic changes in technology?) Here's the introduction to the ABC program.

"Any comfy views you have about your personal security, privacy and safety are about to be seriously challenged. Foreign Correspondent sounds the alarm on the swarms of private and government drones gathering in American skies and surely bound for the rest of the world. Live streaming cameras and the ability to carry other payloads. Tens of thousands of them. But who's at the controls? Police, immigration patrols, journalists, protesters, paparazzi? You?"

I'm not sure how long it will remain live, but here's a link to the transcript and a video. Rise of the Machines.

Wikipedia has a lot of information about Unmanned aerial vehicles but they barely touch what's coming.

CNet had a reporters roundtable on the subject. Flying drones getting smaller, smarter, cheaper, and scarier.

If you have any comments or information you'd like to share on this topic, please let me know.

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Donít Waste the Drought

I recently read a piece from America which began, "We're in the worst drought in the United States since the 1950s, and weíre wasting it." That made me think about Australia. Outside of WA, our big drought is over. Sadly, I think we're letting our drought go to waste. Droughts are a fact of life here. They will return. Energy intensive desalination is NOT the answer. A drought " it also represents an opportunity to tackle long-ignored water problems and to reimagine how we manage, use and even think about water."

The article Donít Waste the Drought is well worth a read. If we don't start planning now, things are likely to be worse the next time around.

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Health and Technology

Time to Take Time Out

"Sociologists say that companies are realizing that productivity goes up if employees feel like they can put smartphones down once they leave the workplace." The Workplace Benefits of Being Out of Touch explains why.

Some technology is proving addictive. People "need to notice the effect that time online has on your performance and relationships." Silicon Valley worries about addiction tells the tale.


It's not just the number of years you live, but how you live them. "Typically, the most aerobically fit people lived with chronic illnesses in the final five years of their lives, instead of the final 10, 15 or even 20 years." Benefits of Middle aged fitness explains this in some detail.

One easy way to get a bit of exercise is on a bicycle. Bicycles and automobiles often don't mix very well, but now Cameras Are Cyclistsí ĎBlack Boxesí in Accidents.

One thing is for sure. Going on a long bushwalk is a good way to get a bit of aerobic exercise and unwind away from your mobile phones and the internet.

Doctors Don't Always Know What They Are Doing

"The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don't know what works. But we pay for it anyway." Testing What We Think We Know explains that, "We donít need to find more things to spend money on; we need to figure out whatís being done now that is not working. Thatís why we have to start directing more money toward evaluating standard practices ó all the tests and treatments that doctors are already providing." Why pay for things that don't actually work?

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Dot Earth

Many of the more interesting environmental articles in the NY Times appear in a section called Dot Earth. There are lots of interesting links. It's well worth a browse. Here's the introductory paragraph.

"By 2050 or so, the human population is expected to reach nine billion, essentially adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources on a planet where, scientists say, humans are already shaping climate and the web of life. In Dot Earth, which recently moved from the news side of The Times to the Opinion section, Andrew C. Revkin examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planetís limits. Conceived in part with support from a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Dot Earth tracks relevant developments from suburbia to Siberia. The blog is an interactive exploration of trends and ideas with readers and experts."

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Reminiscing — A Personal Note

In the last newsletter, I mentioned that I was going to be going back to New York in October to visit family and attend a high school reunion. What I didn't mention was that it is the 50th reunion. I find it hard to believe that I'm really that old. Makes me wonder just how long I can keep this business running. (I hope it will be some years yet.)

At the end of the daily headline emails I get from the NY Times. they have headlines from that date in earlier years. A headline from 17 August 1969 brought back memories about the end of a small gathering I attended. I wasn't there for the whole thing, but I was there.

Back in the 1960s, people talked about a 'generation gap'. It's not quite the same but the generation gap is back in America. "...the line between young and old. Draw it at the age of 65, 50 or 40. Wherever the line is, the people on either side of it end up looking very different, both economically and politically. The generation gap may not be a pop culture staple, as it was in the 1960s, but it is probably wider than it has been at any time since then."

Here in Australia, our generation gap is similar in some ways, different in others. I'd be interested to hear any thoughts any of my readers might have on the subject.

That's a good place to finish, so finish I shall.

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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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