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Newsletter 69, December 2013 - Willis's Walkabouts

Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 69, December 2013, Holiday Edition

Our mailing list has been completely updated. We've also changed how most of them are sent out. Please see the final section for additional information. As noted at the bottom of every newsletter, using the autodelete at the bottom of the newsletter will not completely remove you from our list. So, if you've suddenly found yourself back on the list and you don't want to be, please send us an email and we'll remove you for good.

The Motion Induced Blindness section below might save your life — or it might keep you from killing someone else. Even if you read nothing else in this newsletter, read this. If you look at only two links, make the second one the short video in I Forgot My Phone.

The sections on Education and China are full of links, designed to be browsed at your leisure, not crammed in all at once. Even if you're not at all interested in China, you ought to look at the first link in that section as it is mostly about Australia.

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

Kimberley in the World's Top Ten

Lonely Planet recently released their list of the top ten regions to visit in 2014. Their press release finishes with "Explore the area now, before big business encroaches further." Amen to that. Every year, it seems that the area is just a little less wild than the year before.

Willis's Walkabouts used to get a mention in the relevant Lonely Planet guide books. We may still do. I'm not sure. They have a list of activities from Kununurra. Bushwalking doesn't get a mention.

If you think that we should get a mention, please drop them a line. One easy way to do it is to use their website feedback form. Just say that the activities listed should include bushwalking and that Willis's Walkabouts is the only operator doing extended walks in the region. If you do that, please let us know. Many thanks.

NT in the World's Top Twenty

National Geographic doesn't number them, but they recently listed the NT as one of their top 20 trips for 2014.

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Gudjewg — The Wet Season — Update

If you didn't have a look at the Gudjewg — The Wet Season link in our last newsletter, you ought to do so. Even if you did, it's worth revisiting. The wet season is so different to what most people expect that it's also worth clicking the links that take you from one page to the next.

As the old Tourism NT slogan said, "You'll never never know if you never never go."

We've already got two Kakadu wet season trips that are certain to run.

  • Kakadu Super Circle No. 1: 5-25 January
    Probable guide: Paul Blattman. A major expedition. This is the only trip where you get to Jim Jim and Twin Falls in the Wet. We have spare breakfast and lunch food in our food drop so you won't need to carry food for the second half.
  • Kakadu Light: 4-16 February
    Probable guide: Sec 1 - Russell, Sec 2 - Cassie. The easiest wet season trip we offer. I had a great time working out a new itinerary with the first two who booked. I wanted to do the full trip but got stuck with an unavoidable meeting during the second section.

There's more, much more.

  • Our Kimberley Trips page lists several wet season trips, each of which comes with a detailed description.
  • Our Kakadu Reports page links to a number of reports our clients have written about their wet season trips in Kakadu.
  • Our Kimberley Reports page links to a number of reports our clients have written about their wet season trips in the Kimberley.
  • Several of the photo galleries on our Kakadu Galleries page are from wet season trips.
  • Similarly, several of the photo galleries on our Kimberley Galleries page are from wet season trips.

If you have the time, we have the information. Browse at your leisure and you may come to understand why many of our clients have done multiple wet season trips. There's nothing like them anywhere else on earth.

Last Chance

Any of the following trips which doesn't have at least two bookings before 7 December will be cancelled.

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Thinking Fast & Slow

I recently read a very interesting book, Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The review published in The Guardian describes it well. One good example: "The general point about the size of our self-ignorance extends beyond the details of Systems 1 and 2. We're astonishingly susceptible to being influenced — puppeted — by features of our surroundings in ways we don't suspect. One famous (pre-mobile phone) experiment centred on a New York City phone booth. Each time a person came out of the booth after having made a call, an accident was staged — someone dropped all her papers on the pavement. Sometimes a dime had been placed in the phone booth, sometimes not (a dime was then enough to make a call). If there was no dime in the phone booth, only 4% of the exiting callers helped to pick up the papers. If there was a dime, no fewer than 88% helped." How can something so small and seemingly unrelated make such a difference in behaviour?

The Wikipedia article on the book is a bit more technical. It begins, "The book's central thesis is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book delineates cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking, starting with Kahneman's own research on loss aversion. From framing choices to substitution, the book highlights several decades of academic research to suggest that people place too much confidence in human judgment."

I found it fascinating. Even if you don't read the book, you should at least read the Guardian review. If you find that interesting, have a look at the details in the Wikipedia article. Then, if you are still interested, read the book. I found it well worth while. I also found the fact the author keeps coming back to that, even knowing everything he does, it's still often a struggle to actually consider reality as opposed to what his emotions give him first.

I won't say that the book changed my life in any major way, but I certainly hope that it will get me to make a few changes in things such as how I evaluate risk.

Risk? That's a whole new subject. We perceive the unfamiliar as risky when it may be far safer than something more familiar. Driving a car is far riskier than flying on a scheduled flight. Crossing a busy city street is far riskier than going on a bushwalk. But most people would feel the reverse, even if they understood the actual risks involved.

A shorter article on a similar theme is Why We Make Bad Decisions. * We all have a tendency to "listen to the information we want to hear and ignore the rest". The author bases her story around a medical problem she had. One particularly interesting quote, "Listen to the experts? I'd learned in my research that the super-confident, doctor-as-god types did not always perform well. One study of radiologists, for example, reveals that those who perform poorly on diagnostic tests are also those most confident in their diagnostic prowess." There is a lot of information to suggest that this is true in many fields — the most confident people produce the worst results.

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2014 Australian Trips

All trips on the most recent version of our trip list are still available. We made major changes to the list on 21 November and have made a number of minor changes since then. Even with those changes, this list will change some more. We expect to have to cancel some of the 2014 trips which don't yet have bookings. As mentioned earlier in this newsletter, three of them could disappear on 7 December.

April: Banggerreng — The Knock 'Em Down Storm Season

Banggerreng is not the Wet and it's not the Dry. This is a season that doesn't get the respect it deserves. Outsiders have never heard of it. Even local residents who spend too much of their time in air conditioning don't realise just how much this season has to offer. Personally, I think that it is one of the best times for bushwalking in the north. Click the link at the start of this paragraph and see why.

The following April trips already have bookings.

I'd love to lead any one of these. The 20%, four month advance purchase discount is still available on two. I'll leave it open on the third as well until noon on 7 December. If you can't make up your mind that quickly, the three month, 15% advance purchase discount is available for another month.

May Onwards

The following already have bookings.

  • Kakadu Circle No. 1: 4-25 May
    This is the only dry season trip on offer by anyone which will take you to Jim Jim and Twin Falls before the roads are open.
    Because we did not get the bookings we needed to place a food drop before the road closed, we may not be able to run this trip. There might be an alternative. Please contact us urgently if you are interested.
  • King George: 11-24 May
    Visit two of the most spectacular waterfalls on the Kimberley Coast. Fly in and out and enjoy a boat cruise from one section to the next.
  • Drysdale River No. 1: 1-15 June
    Fly in and out with a float plane.
    Unless we get a cancellation, this trip is now a definite departure.
  • Kakadu Highlights No. 6: 27 July - 9 August 2014.
    Three sections, any of which can be done on its own. For more detailed information see the trip notes.
    We only need two more bookings for this to be a definite departure.

Why do we cancel trips and what do you gain by booking early?

  • We offer more trips than we can run.
    There is no pattern as to which trips will get booked in which year. With so many of our clients being repeat customers, we like to offer as much as possible so that they can choose which one they want. When we've used up our guides, other overlapping trips without bookings have to be cancelled.
  • Access problems. For a variety of reasons, we can't be sure of continued access to a number of areas, including areas to which we've been running trips for over 20 years.
  • All our guides need to be able to plan well in advance. Most live outside Darwin. This means that we can seldom run a trip if it doesn't have bookings at least two months prior to departure.
  • Advance Purchase Discounts. Since we need to encourage people to book well in advance, we offer advance purchase discounts of up to 20%. Details are in our General Information sheet.
  • Lock in a lower price. Every year our costs rise. It takes time to obtain new quotes for services we use. People who book before we have worked out the new price, lock in the old one on trips where we use our own transport and a price halfway between the old and new on trips where we charter transport.
  • Get the trip you want. We won't cancel a trip which has bookings if we can possibly avoid it. Booking early makes it more likely that the trip you are interested in will go ahead. If you are particularly interested in any of those trips, the sooner you contact us, the more likely it is that we will be able to continue to offer it.

What's the alternative?

I could make my life a lot simpler (but not as interesting) if I stopped all paid advertising, cut out 75% of the trips and varied the remainder from year to year. Would the trips that got listed be the ones that you want to do? In some cases yes, but in others certainly no. In some ways I enjoy not knowing which trips will run when, but it does make my life a lot more complicated.

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Your Health

Health Care

The quality of your health care may be about to drop while the cost goes up. "A leaked draft of a controversial chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement reveals the negotiating positions of 12 countries including Australia on copyright, patents and other intellectual property issues, with a heavy focus on enforcement measures against internet piracy."

"The leaked treaty text also reveals new US and Japanese proposals designed to enhance the ability of pharmaceutical manufacturers to extend and widen their patents on drugs and medicines. Proposals with the potential to impact significantly on Australia's Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme include a requirement that patents be available for new uses of existing drugs, effectively allowing ''evergreening'' of existing patents; compensation to companies for delays in the grant or extension of patents; and measures to ensure data exclusivity to allow companies to prevent competitors, specifically manufacturers of generic medicines, from using past clinical safety and efficacy data to support approval of new products."

The quotes above are from an article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 November. Australians may pay the price in Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement

Here's a link to the WikiLeaks page which gives full details of the proposed agreement.

There's more. "Labor rejected it outright. Even the Howard government issued America with a rare "no" over the legislation, declaring it contrary to national interests. But now the Abbott Coalition is flirting with a trade agreement that would allow companies, acting increasingly in secret, to sue Australia if they don't like its regulations. .... "If a mining company, for example, is unhappy with environmental safeguards which inhibit its operations, if a pharmaceutical company is unhappy with the prices it gets for its drugs, if a chemical company is upset with the banning of an agricultural pesticide, if a tobacco company does not like laws restricting cigarette sales, ISDS provisions in trade agreements give them the means to challenge government policy and to seek compensation." These quotes are from an article in The Global Mail

It's happening already. Philip Morris Asia is suing the Australian government alleging that Australia's Tobacco Plain Packaging Act breaches the 1993 agreement between the Hong Kong government and the Australian government for the Promotion and Protection of Investments. The case is being heard in the international Permanent Court of Arbitration.

As of May 2013, Cuba, Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have challenged Australia's rules through World Trade Organization by filing requests for consultations, the first step in challenging Australia’s tobacco-labeling laws at the WTO (World Trade Organisation). A request for consultations opens a 60 day negotiation window after which a formal complaint may be filed, which if successful, might lead to heightened tariffs on Australian exports.

The coalition made "an election commitment to overturn the blanket prohibition on so-called investor-state dispute settlement provisions." That could be bad. On the other hand, Incoming trade minister Andrew Robb says Australia's negotiating position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement remains in place. How firm that position is may well depend on what the public says.

If you don't like the idea of Australia giving away its current rights, let your elected members know. If people don't speak up, we'll lose them whether or not we want to.

Here's a list of the members of the House. It's interesting that some don't provide an email address.

And here's a a list of senators. You can click on your state to see who to contact.

A Bit of Spice

We tend to add a variety of spices to our food. It's not all good. Spices' Link to Food Ills Prompts Changes in Farming * tells why "Prompted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, India, a major producer of spices, is taking steps to change how they are grown and harvested."

Life-Extending Biotechnologies

A recent John Mauldin newsletter was titled Life-Extending Biotechnologies: Creating and Solving Our Economic Problems. I found it thought provoking.

"Our lifespans will continue to improve in both length and vigor. We're not talking about tacking on years of frailty to the end of people's lives. Rather, we will delay senescence and extend health spans, the fully functional, robust part of life, dramatically. Already, many of the conditions that have been assumed to be the inevitable effects of aging can be reversed, restoring vitality and health."

"We can't increase the number of young workers quickly, but we can extend working careers significantly. Essentially, older workers can work longer, paying for their own healthcare and building larger retirement accounts. Raising the age of eligibility for entitlement programs is not, of course, politically popular. Nevertheless, we are already seeing retirements put off due to the degradation of pensions and savings accounts. Polls show that most older workers expect to continue working past their retirement eligibility. This is possible because lifespans have been growing as retirement ages have fallen, increasing the average length of retirement from about eight years in 1950 to almost twenty today.

If you are relatively young, maybe you won't be able to retire until you're 70 or more. On the other hand, maybe it's going to be likely that you'll be healthy and strong until you're 90. The full article is worth a read.

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Motion Induced Blindness

In a motor accident, wherein a speeding car hits a slower moving vehicle coming from the side, the speeding car drivers often swear that they just didn't see the vehicle coming from the left or right.

Well, they aren't lying. They really don't see the vehicle coming from the side, in spite of broad daylight. This phenomenon on the car drivers' part is known as "Motion Induced Blindness". It is unbelievable but it is true, and it is definitely frightening. Armed forces pilots are taught about motion induced blindness during training, because it happens faster at high speeds; and to some extent it is applicable to car drivers also, especially the fast ones. So, if you drive a car, please read this carefully.

Once airborne, pilots are taught to alternate their gaze between scanning the horizon and scanning their instrument panel, and never to fix their gaze for more than a couple of seconds on any single object. They are taught to continually keep their heads on a swivel and their eyes always moving. Because, if you fix your gaze on one object long enough while you yourself are in motion, your peripheral vision goes blind. That's why it is called motion induced blindness. For fighter pilots, this is the only way to survive in air; not only during aerial combat, but from peacetime hazards like mid-air collisions as well.

Till about three decades ago, this "heads on swivel & eyes moving" technique was the only way to spot other aircraft in the skies around.

Now-a-days they have on-board radars, but the old technique still holds good. Let me give you a small demonstration of motion induced blindness. This is the same demonstration that is used for trainee pilots in classrooms before they even go near an aircraft. Just click on the link below. You will see a revolving array of blue crosses on a black background. There is a flashing green dot in the centre and three fixed yellow dots around it. If you fix your gaze on the green dot for more than a few seconds, the yellow dots will disappear at random, either singly, or in pairs, or all three together. In reality, the yellow dots are always there. Just watch the yellow dots for some time to ensure that they don't go anywhere!

Motion Induced Blindness (You can alter the background colour or the rpm of the array by clicking the appropriate buttons.

So, if you are driving at a high speed on a highway and if you fix your gaze on the road straight ahead, you will not see a car, a scooter, a buggy, a bicycle, a buffalo or even a human being approaching from the side. Now reverse the picture. If you are crossing a road on foot and you see a speeding car approaching, there's a 90% chance that the driver isn't seeing you, because his/her peripheral vision may be blind! And you may be in that blind zone!

I'd like to thank Fred Schmidt for this one.

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Overseas Update


Our trip to Chilean Patagonia: 9 December 2013 - 9 January 2014 Patagonia went from "no" to "go" with a new date in a few days in early October. We still have two places available — we can take a maximum of 8 plus myself as guide. Flights aren't cheap, but they are cheaper than when I booked.

Some of the group are going over early and some staying later. We'll use two 4WD vehicles during the trip. We can take two more. it was a great trip when I did it two years ago. Hopefully I can make this one even better.


While I really need more time to sort out the details, I'm hoping to offer all of the following.
  • Vanuatu: 5-23 August
    We might be able to offer a second trip after this one.
    Grant Dixon, a photographer on our second trip in 2012, posted a number of photos on the Vanuatu page on his website. They are well worth a look.
  • Scandinavian Autumn: August-September 2014
    By going at this time of year and doing walks where we stay in huts, we should be able to enjoy some of the spectacular scenery without having to carry as much weight as we did in 2012. We should get to enjoy the autumn vegetation as green turns into a rainbow of colours. And, if we are lucky and are awake at the appropriate hour, we may see the northern lights.
  • New Caledonia — September-October
    Our scouting trip in September 2013 made us believe that we had to offer a trip where we could share some of what we'd learned. Watch for more details or ask to go on the list for additional information.
  • Madagascar: October-November 2014
    This a new trip; the itinerary is a work in progress based on a trip one of our guides did this year. We'll modify the draft itinerary to suit the first people who book.
  • Southern Africa — several possible options, including the Okavango Delta in Botswana. I met someone who runs a safari camp there on my just finished trip to South Africa. That may turn into our second trip to that fascinating area. Another possibility is a trip similar to the one we originally offered in 2013
  • Patagonia —We hope to offer a trip very much like the one this year but possibly leaving a bit earlier.

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I forgot My Phone

This short video lasts only two minutes and eleven seconds. You don't need my comments, just watch it.

The story Fraying at Tethers of Our Phones * is where I found the video. The author wonders if maybe, just maybe, we have arrived at " one of those cultural moments when people start questioning if something has gone too far and start doing something about it." Those of us who feel that life should actually be lived can only hope so. The story Step Away From the Phone! * suggests that this might actually be happening.

The above got me thinking and delving down into the archives. Mark Zuckerberg is the man behind Facebook. When his "then girlfriend moved closer to him, he committed to spending 100 minutes a week outside their apartment or office together." How often do you do that with people who are important in your life?

I somehow briefly got onto the email list for something called Stanford Payne coaching from South Africa. I found two of the articles particularly interesting, all the more relevant as we approach the Christmas season.
Rediscovering the power of relationships
If Today was your Last day
I hope that there's a bit of meaning there for at least a few of those who get this newsletter.

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Education — Pay peanuts, create monkeys

Pay peanuts, create monkeys was a subheading in a story which appeared in a recent edition of The Economist. "There are few policy questions to which improving the quality of education is not a reasonable answer. Yet assessing teachers is far from straightforward. Pupils' grades or test scores may reflect any of a host of influences, not just the standard of instruction. Neither can one take for granted that good teaching, however it is measured, will translate into better lives for its recipients. In two new working papers, Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard University and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia University deploy some statistical wizardry to tease out the value of teaching. Good teachers, they find, are worth their weight in gold."
For those who want more information, there are links at the bottom to the actual studies.

Here's a quote from a similar article in the NY times. "Teaching requires a professional model, like we have in medicine, law, engineering, accounting, architecture and many other fields. In these professions, consistency of quality is created less by holding individual practitioners accountable and more by building a body of knowledge, carefully training people in that knowledge, requiring them to show expertise before they become licensed, and then using their professions' standards to guide their work. By these criteria, American (and Australian) education is a failed profession." The full article is called, Teachers: Will We Ever Learn? * I think it's worth a read.

I was a high school teacher for 20 years. Education is a subject dear to my heart. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that our society values teachers and learning less with each passing year. I also believe that it is the countries which do best to educate their citizens which are going to be the best places to live in the future. What follows is a collection of stories having to do with education, grouped together under some general headings.

What's Wrong and What's Right

Wrong. An Industry of Mediocrity * asks "When will America learn how to teach its teachers?" We should be asking the same question here in Australia. "Setting a high bar at the beginning of the profession sends a signal to everyone else that you are serious about education and teaching is hard," Ripley told me. "When you do that, it makes it easier to make the case for paying teachers more, for giving them more autonomy in the classroom. And for kids to buy into the premise of education, it helps if they can tell that the teachers themselves are extremely well educated."

Right.The Shanghai Secret * explains " how these schools in China made it to No. 1 in the world."
"Shanghai's public secondary schools topped the world charts in the 2009 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exams that measure the ability of 15-year-olds in 65 countries to apply what they've learned in math, science and reading. .... a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools but that are difficult to pull off consistently across an entire school system. These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children's learning, an insistence by the school's leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers."

Devaluing Reason

  • Welcome to the Age of Denial *
    "Our society no longer values the integrity of scientific fact."
  • War on the Core *
    This describes what the author calls "the right-wing campaign to keep America stupid". It's about opposition to improving educational standards by insisting on some basics. With states having so much control over education in Australia, I can't help but wonder what's actually possible here.

Educational Practice

When I was a maths teacher, I briefly shared a house with someone studying to be a primary teacher. I remember being appalled that he really struggled with year 10 maths. Australian and American maths education is, to say the least, less than good. This can affect people in ways that you may not realise. "Miscalculation by judges and lawyers of probabilities, from the odds of DNA matches to the chance of accidental death, have sent innocent people to jail, and, perhaps, let murderers walk free." Justice Flunks Math * explains how.

Grouping Students by Ability Regains Favor in Classroom * tells how "proponents of grouping students, which was criticized in the 1980s as promoting inequality, say that done properly it helps them cope with students of widely varying skill levels."

Losing Is Good for You

Losing Is Good for You * Denying a child the chance to fail does them an incredible disservice. "Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve."
I think this story goes to the heart of one of the major problems facing our society today.

Technology & Online learning

  • Revolution Hits the Universities *
    "Nothing has more potential to let us reimagine higher education than massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms."
  • Master's Degree Is New Frontier of Study Online *
    "The master's degree offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology through massive open online courses has the potential to disrupt higher education."
  • Data Security Is a Classroom Worry, Too *
    "Experts warn that educators may be embracing technology without doing enough to secure student data."
  • Technology and the College Generation *
    "Regarded as too slow, e-mail is barely a second thought for college students, who prefer texting. But that sets them up for trouble with their professors. Just how little are students using e-mail these days? Six minutes a day, according to an experiment done earlier this year by Reynol Junco, an associate professor of library science at Purdue. With the promise of a $10 Amazon gift card, Dr. Junco persuaded students to download a program letting him track their computer habits. During the semester, they spent an average of 123 minutes a day on a computer, by far the biggest portion of it, 31 minutes, on social networking. The only thing they spent less time on than e-mail: hunting for content via search engines (four minutes).
    I find it hard to believe, college students spending only four minutes a day hunting for content via search engines. Will people like that ever find a business like this one? For that matter, would they ever want to?

Education and Employment

How to Get a Job * claims that, "The rules have changed in today's labor market. More employers care about whether a worker can add value, not where a college degree was earned." I would have thought that that should have always been the case. When I'm looking at potential guides, the last thing I look at is paper qualifications.

John Mauldin produces two free newsletters every week. While they are centred on economic issues, they often include a lot more. Mauldin is one of those rare people who not only makes a point of reading, but publicising people with whom he disagrees (as long as they have good arguments) so that he and his readers can keep an open mind.Back in May, he wrote a newsletter which included the comment that "young people are having increasing difficulty landing jobs. People aged 20-24 are still unemployed at levels not seen unless a recession is involved (see chart below). And research keeps coming in that more than 50% of college graduates are stuck in jobs for which a degree is not needed." He expanded on that in a section called Skills Versus Education. "Education — at least in the conventional sense — is not always necessary for job success. All too often it is the enemy of success. Yet the fallacy persists among the unemployed that "going back to school" will somehow solve their problems."

For those who want to dig deeper, a July Mauldin newsletter was titled A Lost Generation. That newsletter referred specifically to the US. Much of what he talked about does not apply in Australia — yet. Yet — that's a word that scares me. The way Australia often follows the trails blazed by America could see us get into a similar position. "When poor people cannot earn a return on their savings or on their labor they remain trapped in poverty. The effect is to subsidize what are effectively overpaid financial jobs and undermine employment prospects within traditional sectors."

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Building a Green Edge for Melbourne

Every so often, I come across a campaign which deserves my full support. This is one of them.

"Melbourne is expanding rapidly and the surrounding environment is under pressure. In 2010 the city and its suburbs were home to 4.2 million people. This figure is expected to reach 5.5 million by 2036. Residents will all need space to breathe, seek respite and recreation. Importantly, we will also need to protect some special natural places and the creatures that call them home."

The quote above is from a campaign the Victorian National Parks Association is running, Building a Green Edge for Melbourne. If you live in Melbourne or simply care about its future, this is well worth your support.

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Marine Parks in NSW

The organisation Save Our Marine Life recently sent out an email which stated that "NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, doing the bidding of the Shooters and Fishers Party which holds the balance of power in NSW Parliament, has commenced a program to roll-back marine parks and permanently allow fishing in protected marine sanctuaries." How shortsighted can you be? Marine protected areas have been shown to improve fishing outside them. Without protected areas, the number of fish available to anglers goes into a steady decline. It's as if some people feel that the best possible thing is to take as much as possible now and damn what happens five or ten years down the track. They may call themselves the Shooters and Fishers Party but they seem to be doing their best to ensure that future generations don't get the chance.

Finally, you can find everything you might want to know about the science of marine parks and making your voice heard on the Save Our Marine Life Resources page.

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Willis's Walkabouts — What Next?

Things are going to change in 2014. Exactly what those changes are will depend, in part, on the feedback we get from you, our readers and clients.

Membership Discounts

Our discount list currently reads, "Members of the following may deduct 5% on proof of membership. Only one member discount may apply. Paddy Pallin, NPA of NSW, YHA, Nomads, ACF, Wilderness Society, Australian Geographic Society." That's been the same for many years now. It's going to have to change.

Once upon a time, we got publicity from all of them. We still get listed by the YHA (scroll down to find us), the NPA of NSW. Australian Geographic has a member benefits program but I couldn't find us on their list. I think they are the only ones. Paddy Pallin used to have something called "Partners in Adventure" where we got listed. That doesn't seem to exist any more. Neither does something similar for Nomads. The Wilderness Society once listed organisations like ours who offered discounts to their members. That no longer seems to be the case. I'm not sure that the ACF ever had a similar list. I expect to be deleting and maybe adding to the list in the next month or two. If you have any ideas of a worthy organisation I could support with a discount in exchange for a bit of publicity, please let me know.


Help!I have thousands of photos, but having talked with a few (very few) advertising people, I don't think I've got many which really sum up what Willis's Walkabouts is about. If you have any good digital photos you'd be happy for me to use in an ad or on my website, I'd love to see them.

Smart Phones

Email. This newsletter goes out via email. My website is the most important marketing tool that I have. But a recent article in the NY Times, Technology and the College Generation * suggests that many young people hardly use email any more and spend very little time hunting for content via search engines. If that's so, how do I find people like that who might be interested in what we have to offer?

Help! I don't own a smart phone. The website has been tested on one, but one isn't enough for us to know how it works. If you do and would like to help, please have a look at our website on your phone and let me know what, if anything, we need to do to make it work better on the small screen.

The Walkabouts Website

The Walkabouts website is our most important marketing tool. With a reasonable number of people spending half an hour or more there, we're doing something right. With a lot of people spending less than 30 seconds, we could be doing better. The two most important things seem to be

  • The home page. I suspect that replacing some of the photos might help. One thought (which makes loading longer) is to have one or two of the photos automatically change.
    What do you think? All suggestions welcome.
  • Search Engine Optimisation. I seem to do very well in searches for some terms, very badly in one important one. Click the link and you'll get a short summary. Maybe you can suggest other words I should be trying to use to help people find a business like this.

Thanks for any help or advice you can give.

Print Advertising

I have had some wonderful help with working on my print ads over the past few months. But, if i can't make it work better, I'm going to have to phase it out. If i can make it work better, that means that more of the trips will run which means that you are more likely to be able to get the one you want. If you have time and are interested, I'd appreciate comments on some or all of the ads below. When making comments, please remember the intended audience. I used the same photos in different ads simply because I didn't have anything I thought was better. There is quite a lot here, but if even one person has a good suggestion, it was more than worth the effort to set it up.

  • Generic ads These ads went in magazines like Australian Geographic, Great Walks, Australian Geographic Outdoor, Wild
    • Australian Geographic, half page
      This same ad also ran in a number of Bushwalking Club newsletters.
    • the latest ad which has gone to some bushwalking clubs and will be used in one or more of the magazines listed above.
    • a full page version of the above which appeared in Great Walks.
      This ad was produced with a lot of help from someone in the advertising industry. It should be more appealing than most of the others. Is it?
    • a full page Mitchell Plateau ad which appeared in Great Walks next to an article about the Mitchell Plateau.
    • a full page Mitchell Plateau ad which appeared in Wild about the time of the Great Walks ad.
      The differences reflect the choices of the designers working for the two magazines.
  • Seasonal ads. These ads tried to encourage people to book in the Wet and Build Up. If they don't attract you, what, if anything, might do the trick?
    • Build Up. This ad appeared in club magazines. A similar one went into Australian Geographic and Wild.
    • Wet Season. This ad appeared in club magazines in 2012.
    • Wet Season. The Sydney version of the 2013 ad which appeared in club magazines.
    • Wet Season. The Melbourne version of the 2013 ad which appeared in club magazines.
      This may have been the first time I changed the text to make it more suitable to a particular geographical audience. The only difference is the second paragraph.
      This ad was the first of a series of three.
    • Wet Season, ad #2, promoting our easiest wet season trip.
    • Wet Season, ad #3, promoting our harder wet season trips.
    • Russell's Light Wet Explorer, promoting a wet season trip I particularly wanted to do myself. It was a great trip with a very small group.
  • Overseas ads. These ads tried to encourage people to consider our overseas trips.
    • Full page #1. This ad appeared in Australian Geographic Outdoor.
    • Full page #2. This ad appeared in Wild.
    • Half page. This ad appeared in Australian Geographic. A similar ad appeared in club magazines.
      The differences reflect the choices of the designers working for the three magazines.
  • Specific trip ads. These ads tried to encourage people to book particular trips. They all appeared in bushwalking club magazines. I've been doing this for some years now. It gets some interest but doesn't seem all that effective. (I'd consider two or three bookings from a single ad with four or five clubs to be effective.)
  • Smaller ads. I can't afford large ads in every publication so I have to work with a number of smaller formats. Here are a few examples. If you set your screen to show the ads at actual size you'll get a better idea than if you blow them up to fit the screen.
    • Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ. After several years of advertising, these ads (plus word of mouth) seem to be generating some business. This is the only overseas advertising I do.
    • NPA of NSW #1. The NPA of NSW is one of the smaller formats I have to work with. This is a generic ad.
    • NPA of NSW #2. This one promoted the overseas trips.
    • VNPA #1. The VNPA format shown here is almost the same size as my normal ads in Wild.
    • VNPA #2. Same photo as the ad above, different text, three years earlier.
      The second of the VNPA ads was done by a professional designer. I did the first in an attempt to cut my advertising costs down.

Everyone who books a trip is asked to tell us where they first heard about us. For the people who haven't walked with us before, the answer is overwhelmingly that they heard of us from friends. That's good. It's seldom that someone mentions one of our ads. That's bad. So, as I said above, I sincerely hope that some of you will be willing to take the time to have a look and let me know what you think of the different ads. What am I doing right> What can I do better?

Thanks for any help you can give.

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Experience As It Once Was

Christmas is a good time to stop and reflect on the things which really matter in life. I thought about cramming the following into one of the other sections but decided it deserved a section of its own.

Experience as It Once Was * suggests that "Everything today seems filtered and controlled — made into a kind of branded facsimile of genuine experience."

"The question of genuine, undiluted experience has been on my mind. Germans have a good word for something authentic: "echt." We have an echt deficit these days. Everything seems filtered, monitored, marshaled, ameliorated, graded and app-ready — made into a kind of branded facsimile of experience for easier absorption. The thrill of the unexpected is lost. ... The modern world’s tech-giddy control and facilitation makes us stupid. Awareness atrophies. Dumb gets dumber. Lists are everywhere — the five things you need to know about so-and-so; the eight essential qualities of such-and-such; the 11 delights of somewhere or other. We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience. These lists are meaningless.

Stop and think for a moment. What really matters in your life? How much time do you spend on things that really matter compared to those that don't? If even one person who reads this manages to make an extra hour a week for things that really matter, then the effort of producing this newsletter has been more than worth while.

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If China sneezes, does Australia catch a cold or get pneumonia? The Australian economy has become incredibly dependent on China. Here are a selection of articles which may help you understand the nature of the country we depend on so much.

The best place to begin is to try and understand ourselves. "Australia is in a high-risk situation, even though superficially it appears secure. Its options are to align with the United States and accept the military burdens that entails, or to commit to Asia in general and China in particular. Until that time when an Asian power can guarantee the sea-lanes against the United States — a time that is far in the future — taking the latter route would involve pyramiding risks. Add to this that the relationship would depend on the uncertain future of Asian economies — and all economic futures are now uncertain — and Australia has chosen a lower-risk approach."
Australia's Strategy, an article from Stratfor expands on this.

The articles which follow present a broad picture of China today. The authors do not always entirely agree with each other, but, given the complexity of the issues, this is not surprising. May you live in interesting times is supposed to be an old Chinese curse. It's not (see the link), but we certainly do live in interesting times.

Chinese Society

The Chinese leadership values stability over almost everything else. They may or may not be able to achieve it. To understand why, you need to know more about their society than makes it into the popular press.

  • In China, an Unprecedented Demographic Problem Takes Shape
    Chinese society is on the verge of a structural transformation even more profound than the long and painful project of economic rebalancing, which the Communist Party is anxiously beginning to undertake. China's population is aging more rapidly than it is getting rich, giving rise to a great demographic imbalance with important implications for the Party's efforts to transform the Chinese economy and preserve its own power in the coming decade.
  • China Takes Aim at Western Ideas *
    A document released to Communist Party cadres enumerated what it called subversive social currents, including Western-inspired notions of human rights, that must be fought.
  • China's Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million Into Cities *
    A 12-year plan to move hundreds of millions of rural residents into cities is intended to spur economic growth, but could have unintended consequences, skeptics warn. "The party has shifted priorities, mainly to find a new source of growth for a slowing economy that depends increasingly on a consuming class of city dwellers."
    China seems to want to follow the Western model where the economy depends on more and more people spending money on things they don't really need. In the long run, I don't think this is sustainable.
  • Pursuing Graft Cases at Higher Levels, Chinese Leader Risks Unsettling Elites *
    While President Xi Jinping may help consolidate his power in targeting corrupt officials, zeroing in on higher targets may unleash risky instabilities within the political elite.
  • China: The Next Phase of Reform
    The commitment and ability of China's leaders to follow through on new policies and to meet rising expectations will be tested as they strive to balance competing social, economic, political and security challenges.
  • China's Inevitable Changes
    Whether Xi wants it to be or not, China is at another crossroads. He has little choice but to make consequential decisions, lest he leave China scrambling from one quick fix to another at the expense of long-term opportunities.
  • Cultural Revolution Vigilantes *
    Why would a memoir about growing up in China spawn such hate?
  • Wikipedia China Becomes Front Line for Views on Language and Culture *
    Even innocuous topics have become controversial for Wikipedia editors from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and compounding the issue are language differences.

Chinese Technology

  • Busting China's Bloggers *
    "The vast state censorship apparatus works hard to keep microbloggers down. ... It's easy to see why the government feels threatened. The most popular microblogging service, Sina's Weibo, has more than 500 million registered members and 54 million daily users, and has become the most important space for citizens to participate in public life — and expose government lies. Microbloggers dare to question the legitimacy of the one-party state. They expose corruption. They shame criminals."
  • Speedy Trains Transform China *
    Just five years after the high-speed rail system opened, it is carrying nearly twice as many passengers as the country's domestic airline industry.
  • Faster than a speeding bullet
    "China's new rail network, already the world's longest, will soon stretch considerably farther." It will go into an area as sparsely populated as most of Australia. Pity we can't do something similar.
  • U.S. Directly Blames China's Military for Cyberattacks *
    The Pentagon explicitly accused China of attacks on government systems and defense contractors, possibly to map "military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis."
  • Hacking U.S. Secrets, China Pushes for Drones *
    A two-year hacking operation by a group linked to China's army is the latest sign of Beijing's ambitious plans to be at the forefront of drone manufacturing.

The Chinese Economy

  • All Dried Up
    Northern China is running out of water, but the government's remedies are potentially disastrous
  • Easy Credit Dries Up, Choking Growth in China *
    Growth has slowed, causing an increase in defaults on unconventional loans, chronic overcapacity in many industries and other problems.
  • Faltering Economy in China Dims Job Prospects for Graduates *
    Graduating seniors say that few are finding jobs - and some offers extended over the winter were being rescinded as the economy falters.
  • China's Economic Empire *
    The biggest threat from Beijing is the aggressive spread of state capitalism.
  • Recognizing the End of the Chinese Economic Miracle is from Stratfor.
    "We have gone from China the omnipotent, the belief that there was nothing the Chinese couldn't work out, to the realization that China no longer works."
    "Because the Chinese feared unemployment, Chinese policy, manifested in bank lending policies, stressed preventing unemployment by keeping businesses going even when they were inefficient. China also used bank lending to build massive infrastructure and commercial and residential property. Over time, this policy created huge inefficiencies in the Chinese economy. Without recessions, inefficiencies develop. Growing the economy is possible, but not growing profitability. Eventually, the economy will be dragged down by its inefficiency. they cannot avoid the consequences of their economic reality, and the longer they put off the day of reckoning, the harder it will become to recover from it. Australia in particular has been badly hit by the Chinese situation, just as it was by the Japanese situation a generation ago."
    I'd rank this as the most important of all the Chine articles.
  • The PC16: Identifying China's Successors

China and the World

  • China Gains New Friends in Its Quest for Energy *
    A Chinese presence at a vast new oil field in Kazakhstan is another indication that China's influence has eclipsed even Russia's across the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
  • China Finds Resistance to Oil Deals in Africa *
    Some cash-starved African states are showing an assertiveness that suggests the days of China's unbridled influence as a mega-investor may be waning.
    Compare the two stories above. You won some, you lose some.
  • China's Hopes for Bridging the Taiwan Strait
    Beijing hopes that enhanced economic integration and the physical infrastructure it wants to build one day across the Taiwan Strait could bring the country a step closer to fulfilling a core geopolitical imperative by reuniting with the island.
  • China's Ambitions in Xinjiang and Central Asia: Part 1
    This is a three-part series on China's evolving strategic interests in Central Asia and in its own far northwest, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Part 1 looks at Xinjiang's history as a "buffer region" protecting China's core and linking it to Eurasia. This installment also examines recent efforts by Beijing to adapt the region's legacies to new uses. This page contains links to parts 2 & 3.
    "One of the most promising developments in overland transport is the China-Europe railway. On July 17, Beijing inaugurated a direct rail line from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province and the largest inland manufacturing base for Taiwanese electronics firm Foxconn, to Hamburg, Germany."
  • China's New Map — Asia's New Arms Race
    While it shouldn't happen, there is the potential for a war to break out. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail but it's worth being aware of whats going on.
  • U.S. Sends Two B-52 Bombers Into Air Zone Claimed by China *
    The American response to the story above. "Officials said the United States military would continue to assert its right to fly through what it regards as international airspace after a recent Chinese claim to an 'air defense identification zone.'"

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Amazing Photos

In the spirit of the coming Christmas season, I'd like to finish by sharing some great photos.

Amazing World Photos
Thanks to Ron Brown for this one.

27 Surreal Places To Visit Before You Die
I've only been to three of the 27. I wonder how many more I'll make it to.

Gorgeous Glimpses of Calamity * *
Man-made perils to the universe's garden of life are evident from space. Great photography, makes you think, especially when comparing some of the early photos with some of the later ones.

Street art has become something of a phenomenon in recent years. This slideshow contains 48 examples of the very best in the world.

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News About This Newsletter

Sending the newsletter

About 2000 of you will have received this newsletter through a new program from a company called Mail Chimp. This will, I hope, allow me to overcome some of the problems I'd been having with my old program. The free version of Mail Chimp can't handle more than 2000 so I've left about 200 on the old list which will go through my original server. In both cases, 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.


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.>/p>

Several of the items in this newsletter were suggested to me by other people. If I didn't give them credit here, I thank them nonetheless. I'm 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 have said before, Suggestions welcome.

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.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, to you all!!
Russell Willis

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