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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 65, April 2013

The End of Willis's Walkabouts. It didn't quite happen, but it came close last month. Read on and find out more.

I've finally got my normal email back. In sorting through old emails, I've found some that apparently hadn't been added to the mail list for this newsletter. I apologise if I've managed to put you back on the list if I shouldn't have. If so, please blame the computer and let me know so I can fix the problem.

Browse this at your leisure. There was a lot more I wanted to include, but this newsletter is more than long enough. Browse most of it at your leisure, but if you are interested in our 2013 trips, you ought to look at those sections first while trips are still available.

For an amazing video experience, make sure you click the last link in the Looking Back section.

Note. The NY Times allows non-subscribers to look at ten free articles each month. I've got more links than that in this newsletter so I've marked them with a red asterisk (*) so that you can choose which are of most interest to you.

Willis's Walkabouts logo

In this issue

The End of Willis's Walkabouts

It didn't quite happen, but it came close. If things had been just slightly different, I'd have been gone and the business might or might not have continued without me.

On the weekend of 9-10 March, I led a trip for the Darwin Bushwalking Club. (Now you know what I do in my free time when I'm not walking with one of my tours.) We were heading home when, about 50 km outside Darwin, the driver of the car in which I was travelling suddenly dozed off and swerved into the oncoming traffic lane. I shouted. He overcorrected as he swerved back, going off onto the grass beside the road. 30 metres later we hit a concrete culvert and the lights went out. I spent two nights in hospital, having broken the windscreen with my face in spite of my seatbelt.

While my recovery has been little short of miraculous, the incident has given me pause to reflect on what's really important in life. It's certainly not work and material things. It's people.

I wrote up a description of the accident and its aftermath which I've sent to a number of my friends. If you are one of those who knows me personally or just curious, please have a look at The Accident and its Aftermath.

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Last Chance — 2013 Australian Trips

No regular trip before June is still available. We MIGHT be able to run a short trail maintenance trip in late May or early June. Please let us know if you might be interested.

The following trips all have bookings. Some are almost full.

Birdwatching Special

Our two-week Kakadu and Top End Birdwatching Special trip is back in the program. If it runs, it will be led by Don Butcher. While it's not until August, there is little chance that we can run it if we don't have bookings before June.

Looking Further Ahead

I am finding it very difficult to cope with the increasing number of people who don't worry about the advance purchase discounts and try to book fairly close to departure. Combine that with increasing access problems and I'm not sure what I'll be able to offer in 2014 and beyond. If anyone has suggestions as to what I can do to improve the situation, I'd love to hear them.

Final Note. The office will be manned only part-time while I'm out bush, 23 April through 5 May. If you have a question or want to make a booking, please be patient if someone doesn't get back to you straightaway.

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World War III — Has It Begun?

The title of this section might seem absurd, but if a war is something that is designed to cause an opponent's society to collapse, then maybe it's no where near as absurd as it might seem at first glance. Almost every aspect of our society depends on computers. Attack the right computers and you can bring down the banking system, the electricity supply and much more. It's already happening.

We have created a society in which everything is interconnected,where one little mistake in one place can have worldwide consequences. We live in a fragile society. That's a perfect introduction to the next section.

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In Newsletter 62, I recommended the book The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb. I've just read his latest book, Antifragile. Amazon gives it the subtitle Things That Gain from Disorder. I prefer the one printed in my copy How To Live In a World We Don't Understand. Make no mistake, there is an incredible amount that we don't understand about the world, particularly the world we have created.

I should have been making notes as I went along. I didn't but, here are a few snippets, chosen for what I consider to be their shock value.

The Wikipedia page about Taleb is well worth a read.

While I cannot do justice to the book myself, this book review does a pretty good job. As for me, I'll just say that it has made me look at certain aspects of my life and change them. I can't recommend it highly enough.

But that's a personal opinion, other reviews aren't as complimentary.

Any book that forces you to "examine your own biases and assumptions" is, in my opinion, worth a read. If anyone who has read the book wants to send me some comments, I'd like to come back to it again in a future newsletter.

Specialist knowledge is useless and unhelpful

The above is a bit of an exaggeration of one of Taleb's main points, but there is more than a grain of truth in it. In December, New Scientist ran an interview entitled Specialist knowledge is useless and unhelpful. It's about a company kaggle.com, a website that hosts competitions for data prediction. They have found that "People competing to solve problems are outclassing the specialists."

On a similar note,* Forecasting Fox explains how one man unveils a strategy for better forecasting. The message here is similar to one of the themes in Taleb's book.

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One of the points in Taleb's book is how we overestimate the risk of unfamiliar things and underrate the risk of familiar ones. People who aren't bushwalkers often consider what we do to be risky. The reality is that you are in more danger of being killed on a two week driving trip than on a two week bushwalk. Jared Diamond wrote a wonderful piece explaining this. * That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer. We exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways — crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops. At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control ("That would never happen to me — I'm careful") and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way."

Of all the many NY Times links in this newsletter, this is my favourite.

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WW Overseas

Our overseas trips are like nothing else on the market. All four of our overseas trips have bookings. I just wish I could do them all myself.

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NSW — The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

The Good

Wildwalks is a free online bushwalking and camping guidebook for NSW. There is information on something like 1000 walks. The Coast & Mountain Walkers magazine says, "View and/or print maps, track notes other information and photos of NSW walks and campsites, plus information on birds, weather and more."

The Bad

The Sydney Bushwalkers alerted me to the fact that the NSW government is selling a number of public right of way "roads" in NSW (these "roads" are usually just a hatching on the map, rather than an actual physical road). Many bushwalkers use these "roads"to gain access to the bush. If access is cut off, then areas for bushwalkers to wander in will be seriously curtailed.

Click the link to find out more and consider signing a petition calling for Transparency for sale of unformed roads in NSW. If enough people sign the petition, then the government may take notice. If people don't sign, then a bad situation will get worse.

The Ugly

"Go on a bushwalk and get shot. "The NSW Government announced on 30 May 2012 a new program of pest control by individuals licensed under the Game and Feral Animal Control Act (GFAC Program). This is to help control pest animals in selected national parks, nature reserves and state conservation areas, once those areas are so declared by the Minister for the Environment."

The following is from the February 2013 edition of Into the Blue, the magazine of the Coast & Mountain Walkers in Sydney.

Shooting in National Parks

When Barry O’Farrell announced amateur shooters would be allowed to hunt feral animals in NSW National Parks he said shooting would be "well managed, properly resourced and carried out under strict supervision". Now we hear that no extra money will be available to monitor hunters.

Most National Parks and Wildlife Service Rangers are strongly opposed to hunting in National Parks and the Public Service Association has said that NPWS rangers don’t have time to "babysit recreational hunters".

The Government's own risk assessment indicates bushwalkers and NPWS staff are at risk of being killed or seriously wounded by hunters.

In January an article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported the insurance broker to 55 bushwalking clubs as saying "companies would think twice about offering cover or load the premium for walkers". Some fear that premiums could double.

Shooters to Escape Park Rangers Sights — Heath Aston, Hut News No. 299 Dec. 2012 - Jan 2013 of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society www.bluemountains.org.au/hutnews. See page 4.
Walkers Pay Price for Hunters — Heath Aston, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Jan. 2013 Walkers Pay Price for Hunters

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You and Your Health

I've found quite a number of interesting articles, some of which contain real surprises.

What are you?

A recent edition of New Scientist contained a section called The great illusion of the self. It turns out that we are not what we think we are.

The NY Times collection

The following, in no particular order, are some articles from the NY Times which I found interesting.

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Our Society

In my last newsletter, I had a section called The Crisis of the Middle Class. I've found a few more interesting articles to follow on from that theme.

Two videos

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A large percent of the Australian economy depends on exports to China. The US has been depending on China to buy a lot of its debt. Two trends in China suggest that things are going to change.

A country with an aging population where fewer and fewer people want to go into manufacturing jobs, is not going to continue to need the same quantities of raw materials and is not going to have the same kind of trade surplus which allows it to buy so much from other countries.

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Nature — A Celebration

Interesting stories

Wonderful photos

The following are all power point presentations.

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What Makes Willis's Walkabouts Different?

I had no takers for my challenge to win a free trip in the last newsletter, so I thought I'd repeat this section and hope that someone takes up the challenge.

There is no other tour operator anywhere in the world offering exactly the same kind of trips that we do.

Our tours are not for everybody. While we try and explain exactly what we offer on our website and in the information we send out, we still get some people who come on our trips expecting them to be like other tours. Some are wonderfully surprised; others are woefully disappointed. We'd rather miss some bookings and avoid those disappointments. Here are a few of the things that make Willis's Walkabouts not just different but unique.

Taken one by one, there are others who offer similar things. Taken altogether, there is no one else. That's one of the reasons why several of our clients have done ten or more of our trips, why 40-50% of our clients each year are repeat customers and why so many of the rest come based on recommendations from friends.

The Challenge — Win a Free Trip

The challenge is in three parts.

  1. Read the more detailed document What makes Willis's Walkabouts different/unique tell us how we can improve it and what sort of photos we should use when we put it onto a web page.
  2. Turn it into a half-page ad. Let us know what kind of photo or photos we'd need and we'll supply a selection. Or maybe you have one of your own from one of our trips.
  3. Find another tour operator anywhere in the world who matches all the criteria above and in the What makes Willis's Walkabouts different/unique document.

The Prize

  1. If we use your response to #1 above, you get the larger of a $250 or a 33⅓% discount on a trip.
  2. If we use your response to #2 above, you get the larger of a $250 or a 33⅓% discount on a trip.
  3. If we agree with your answer to #3 above (or can't show you why we disagree), you get the larger of a $250 or a 33⅓% discount on a trip.

Sorry, no cash. We can only offer discounts. The percentage discount will be taken off after any other discounts you might be entitled to. Sadly, there has to be a limit. The percentage discount can apply only to trips to the value of $3000. If you choose a more expensive trip, you can apply the amount you would have saved on a $3000 trip to the one you choose.

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Looking Back

Kakadu in the 1960s

Fire and buffalo in Kakadu — a 1960's video clip

Plan ahead. The full video runs a bit over 20 minutes.

Greg Miles, a ranger who served in the park for something like 20 years from the time it was proclaimed wrote the following to accompany the video.

Actually, there is no sign of fire despite it being in October or November.

Check this old video out and look at the vegetation at the height of the buff era. Although they say this is filmed at Goodparla — the stone country in the floodplain filming was done at Cannon Hill on the East Alligator River. Sab Lord found this clip. He was brought up at Munmarlary as a child when all this was happening. The Cannon Hill buff trap was still in use in the same spot at Cannon Hill when I arrived there in 1976.

You might have to turn the volume off so that you don't have to hear the AJ's (American Jerks). Looking at them is bad enough!!

But if ever you wanted evidence that buffalo would have had an impact on the frequency and intensity of fire — look no further.

There is an interesting temporal issue to this as well. IE, Back then, when the wet season finished there was the maximum amount of fuel standing (as happens now). But early dry season fires might have been (lets say 40%) less hot and less damaging to the total ecology — than the same time today — due to the activities of buff over the wet season. But as the dry season progressed there would not have been much production of new grass as growth slows to a standstill as the dry progresses (as happens now). But the appetites of buffalo did not stop. Therefore, over the dry season they continued eating — moving progressively from the woodlands to the plains. As each dry season month passed, the country became less flammable due to buffalo removing grass. This meant that by September, the country wasn't very flammable at all — as you can see in the video clip. And would not be prone to lightning strike ignition, because of the increasing rarity of grass.

Could it be argued therefore, — that during the buff decades — late dry season, hot fires were rare?

But today — in the absence of buffalo — late season hot fires are common and disastrous, forcing land managers to unnaturally burn vast areas of country in the early dry season, as a modern, preventative measure — but this measure is doing massive and cumulative damage to the total ecology. Maybe small mammals are the first to go under this new and unnatural fire regime. But — you will ask — what suppressed the grass pre-buffalo? 'Fine scale, Aboriginal burning' is the answer of course.

I am just thinking out loud with this, but .....

Rock Art Movies

Prehistoric cinema: A silver screen on the cave wall
With cartoon frescoes, shadow theatre and a rudimentary form of animation, our ancestors knew how to bring their stories to life.

Finally, still looking back ...

The History of the World in Two Minutes

This amazing clip was a project by a high school student. Some of those who viewed it wanted to see it in slower motion. It is possible.

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Stop Press! — She's At It Again!

One of our most talented guides, Amelia Hunter is doing a comedy show in the Sydney Comedy Festival at 7:30 pm at the Seymour Centre on 24 & 26 April. Click the link below for full details.

Measure of Her Madness.

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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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