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Newsletter 70, January 2014 - Willis's Walkabouts

Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 70, January 2014

2014 marks a very significant anniversary for Willis's Walkabouts. Read on and find out what it is. If you've ever tried to find our website, maybe you can help me figure out what people look for when they are trying to find trips like ours.

A photo from one of our Vanuatu trips is on the front cover of the current edition of Wild magazine. We've had photos from our trips appear in the magazine before, but I think this is the first time we've made the cover.

If you are one of those who are finding it ever harder to carry a full pack, please have a look at the Slackpacking section. It might give you a whole new outlook.

This newsletter is designed for a leisurely browse over several days or even weeks. There is far too much to sit down and click every link. Few, if any, people will be interested in reading all the stories but I hope that most of you will find at least a few of them interesting, informative and/or thought provoking. Death by dehogaflier in the Technology section could offer a partial solution to the problem of feral pigs. there's more, much more.

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

Green Ants — A Gourmet Delight

Wonders never cease. Green ants feature on the dessert menu of an upmarket Sydney restaurant.

Thanks to the Coast and Mountain Walkers in Sydney for permission to include this article.

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Gudjewg — The Wet Season — Last Chance

Only one wet season trip still has space available. Kakadu Light: 4-16 February is a definite departure.
The probable guides are Russell for section one and Cassie for section two. (I'd have done both if I wasn't on a Kakadu Tourism Committee which has its quarterly meeting during the second section.
This is the easiest wet season trip we offer. I had a great time working out a new itinerary with the first two who booked. Even if you don't think you're interested, it's worth having a look at the trip notes just to get an idea of what an easy wet season trip is like. There's a lot of information about earlier Kakadu Light trips on our website.

It's not wet down south

5 reasons why Australia burns explains why bushfires are so frequent and so bad in southern Australia.

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Things to do in Darwin

Historic Walk

Many of our clients have an extra day or two in Darwin before or after their trips. I recently discovered a great Trip Advisor web page detailing a historic walk you can do. If you ever have some time to spare, I highly recommend it.

Darwin Beaches

I have long been bothered by the fact that Cairns which doesn't have any beaches in the town has a reputation for beaches while Darwin which has excellent beaches is completely unknown for them. The water temperature is ideal for people from cooler climates. The southern beach crowds are missing. While crocodiles and jellyfish do exist, swimming at a beach in Darwin is safer than crossing a city street or swimming at most southern beaches. What more could you ask? Darwin Beaches is my attempt to put the record straight and show people what we have to offer.

In addition to information on Darwin's five swimming beaches, I've included links to many other things which are worth doing and are near the beaches. Those things include.

  • Three museums.
  • Cycle paths and bike hire.
  • A good place for birdwatching.
  • Information about several local parks & reserves.
  • Three clubs which offer a great place for an outdoor sunset dinner.

Please help. There is lots of information on the web about accommodation and tours, but not very much about the interesting things which are free or cost very little. I'd like to remedy that so I'd very much appreciate any comments or suggestions as to how I can improve the new web page and make it even more helpful for people visiting Darwin.

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Banggerreng — The Knock 'Em Down Season

Banggerreng is not the Wet and it's not the Dry. It is almost always at least partly in April but it can begin as early as mid March and run as late as early May. This is the season when the rain clouds have dispersed and clear skies prevail. The vast expanses of floodwater recede and streams start to run clear. Most plants are fruiting and animals are caring for their young. Short, violent, windy storms early in this season flatten the spear grass; they are called 'knock 'em down' storms. If you'd like to know more, click the link to our Banggerreng page.

Three of our April trips already have bookings. At least one is almost certain to run. Those without enough bookings to run two months prior to departure will have to be cancelled.

The following already have bookings.

  • Karijini National Park: 6-19 April 2014.
    See one of Australia's most spectacular gorge systems while it's still warm enough to enjoy a swim. Two sections, either of which can be done on its own.
    Note. there is only one space available on this trip.
  • Kakadu Short Circle: 13-26 April 2014.
    See Kakadu while the waterfalls are all still flowing well. Enjoy one of our more leisurely trips visiting wonderful places non-walkers will never see.
    We only need one more bookings to make this a definite departure.
    Special offer. I think this is such a good trip that I am willing to run it at a loss. to try and make sure it runs, I am now offering a $500 discount to anyone booking before 13 February. No other discounts apply with this offer.

"Definite" Departures

I've said this in at least one earlier newsletter, but it's worth repeating. When we call a trip a "definite departure" we mean that we have the bookings we need to run it. While it has never happened, it is always possible that several people will cancel before the 60 day cancellation fee kicks in. If enough people were to cancel, we'd have to cancel the trip.

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Privacy — Can it Continue to Exist

Our society is changing and will continue to change. Privacy as we have known it may cease to exist in the future.

A World Without Privacy


Those are the slogans in Dave Eggers's new novel The Circle. Will they end up being prophetic? The book is a warning about how we are well on our way to losing the last shred of privacy we have. A World Without Privacy * was an article in the NY Times where I first heard of the book. It makes a good start to this section.

Japan has just passed a new secrecy law designed to keep government workings from the public. In America Silencing the Whistle-Blowers * explains how a "proposed rule would punish government workers who speak out when they see something wrong."
I'd like to think Whistle-Blowers in Australia were in a better position but I suspect not. Can anyone enlighten me?

Privacy and Children

Think back to when you were a child. Did your parents know every move you made? Did your teachers share your innermost thoughts? Technology offers some great benefits and some possible downsides.

If a Young Child Wanders, Technology Can Follow * explains how "New devices for keeping tabs on small children use GPS, Wi-Fi and other location-tracking technology and can be linked to apps on a parent's phone."

Warily, Schools Watch Students on the Internet * tells how "New ways to monitor students around the clock raise questions about whether educators can or should legally discipline children for online outbursts." That story is from America. What's the situation here in Australia?

Privacy at Work

How Surveillance Changes Behavior: A Restaurant Workers Case Study * discusses a study of employee monitoring software in restaurants which "suggests that when employees know they're being watched, it can significantly alter behavior — and increase sales." If it affects the bottom line, employers are going to use it. Like it or not, I think this is coming to a lot of jobs, perhaps sooner than you think.

Big Brother — Fighting Back, Giving In or Both

Angry Over U.S. Surveillance, Tech Giants Bolster Defenses *
"What began as a public relations predicament for the companies has evolved into a moral and business crisis that threatens their businesses."

Let's Build a More Secure Internet *
"After revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance programs, the network needs an overhaul."
The question is, will it get the overhaul it needs?

Sharing, With a Safety Net *
"A privacy bill for young people passed by California's Legislature has put the state in the middle of a debate over how to protect those who share without thinking."

California isn't alone. No U.S. Action, So States Move on Privacy Law *
"Lawmakers in 10 states have passed more than two dozen privacy laws this year as support for the bills has grown among constituents."
While national rules are preferable, if they don't exist, could an Australian state legislate in a similar fashion to those in the US? That's a constitutional question to which I don't know the answer. Can anyone help?

In October, New Scientist ran an editorial entitled Time to get personal over data. "Ongoing revelations about surveillance by the US National Security Agency have yet to fundamentally affect the way we choose to handle our personal data..... Why don't people seem to care? One important reason is that very few of us really understand, let alone control, the vast, intangible and invisible data trail we leave behind as we navigate the digital world. Perversely, internet companies and government agencies often understand what we're giving up better than we do."

If you would like to Hide your data from prying eyes, read the story published under that title in the same issue. (The web version has the title "Private data gatekeeper stands between you and the NSA")

A few weeks later, another New Scientist editorial asked "Has the time come to abandon online anonymity?" In that same issue, the topic was expanded in a long article called The End of Anonymity which began, "Biometrics may soon make it impossible to hide your identity online. It could bring a new age of internet civility — if we don't mind losing our liberty too."

There are pros and cons about the whole privacy issue. It deserves a lot more thought than it gets.

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How Science Goes Wrong

How Science Goes Wrong was the cover story in a recent edition of The Economist. Their editorial states, "success can breed complacency. Modern scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying — to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity. Too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis."

The main article Trouble at the lab includes the following.
"Scientists like to think of science as self-correcting. To an alarming degree, it is not. A few years ago scientists at Amgen, an American drug company, tried to replicate 53 studies that they considered landmarks in the basic science of cancer, often co-operating closely with the original researchers to ensure that their experimental technique matched the one used first time round. According to a piece they wrote last year in Nature, a leading scientific journal, they were able to reproduce the original results in just six."

There's a lot more. I think it's well worth a read. One thing to keep in mind is that there is relatively little funding for trying to replicate other studies. As long as that remains the case, the problem is likely to persist. For a society which depends on science as much as ours, it's a worry.

Something similar appeared in New Scientist in October. In an editorial entitled, Neuroscience wrongs will make a right (originally published as "First, Get it Wrong"), the editors told how, "When a dead salmon was put into a brain scanner during a test run, "the fish's brain and spinal column were showing signs of neural activity. There was no such activity of course. The salmon was dead. But the signal was there, and it confirmed what many had been quietly muttering for years: there's something fishy about neuroscience."
Later in the article, they noted that , "The problems are not exclusive to neuroscience. In 2005, epidemiologist John Ioannidis published a bombshell of a paper called "Why most published research findings are false". In it he catalogued a litany of failures that undermine the reliability of science in general. His analysis concluded that at least half, and possibly a large majority, of published research is wrong." However, they also noted that, "Ioannidis might have expected anger and denial, but his paper was well received. Scientists welcomed the chance to debate the flaws in their practices and work to put them right." things aren't as good as they should be, but they are better than some believe.

In that same issue, a featured article, Hidden depths: Brain science is drowning in uncertainty, went into a lot of detail about how the problems arose and what is being done about them. Here's a quote,
"... he analysed 48 review papers that collectively had scrutinised 730 studies examining the risk factors and treatments for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and chronic pain. The experiments used many different methods, including measures of cognitive functioning, gene testing, and clinical trials. From this, the team estimated the odds that each study was able to detect something that was truly there to be discovered — otherwise known as its "statistical power".
The results were grim. The average overall power was about 20 per cent, largely because the number of subjects used in the experiments was simply too small for reliable results to come out of them, even if they passed the standard statistical tests (Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol 14, p 365). In other words, four out of five studies might have been missing the actual biological effect or mechanism sought, and therefore reported false negatives.
But that's not all. The low power delivers a double whammy of uncertainty: not only are you likely to be missing the evidence even if it's under your nose, but "if you do detect something that seems to be significant, it has a higher chance of being a false positive""

Good science costs money. If people can't afford to use enough subjects in their experiments, many of the results will inevitably be flawed.

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Overseas Update

While I really need more time to sort out the details, I'm hoping to offer all of the following. We already have bookings for Vanuatu, Scandinavia and Madagascar.
  • Vanuatu: 5-23 August
    We might be able to offer a second trip after this one.
    Ed Hill, the guide on our Vanuatu trips, wrote a story about one of those trips which is in the current edition of Wild magazine. One of Ed's photos is on the cover. Grant Dixon, a photographer on that trip provided most of the photos. Grant has also 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 there. The first draft of the trip notes is now available.
  • 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.
  • South Africa This is the same trip we originally offered in 2013.
    This trip already has bookings.
  • Patagonia: November-January — We hope to offer a trip very much like the one this year but leaving a bit earlier or a bit later.
    Catch 22. (How many of you are old enough to remember where that phrase came from?) Going early means that we get cheaper airfares and avoid the peak season crowds. It also means that some things aren't open. Going later means that everything is open but it also means that airfares are higher and places can be booked out.

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2014 Australian Trips

All trips from May onwards are still available. The following already have bookings.


We already have a booking on a trip for May 2015.

  • Kakadu Circle No. 1: 3-24 May, 2015
    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.
    We can't run this trip unless we have five bookings by mid October 2014.

This is one of my personal favourite trips. The need to put a food drop in place six and a half months in advance means that it doesn't run as often as it should. Please have a look at the trip notes if you think there is even the slightest chance you might be interested.

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

See the last newsletter for an explanation if you didn't see it before.

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Your Health


This one is scary. Pharmageddon is "the prospect of a world in which medicines and medicine produce more ill-health than health, and when medical progress does more harm than good" —: and it is no longer a prospect but fully upon us. Adverse drug reactions to prescribed medications are the fourth leading killer in America, right after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Here are a few links to articles about the new epidemic.

There are lots more similar articles on the web. What is interesting — and somewhat disconcerting — is that I have been unable to find any statistics for the number of Australian deaths caused by adverse drug reactions. The Australian Bureau of Statistics doesn't list it in the top 20 leading causes of death. Are we really that much better — or is our medical profession that much more skillful at covering up their errors?

If anyone can show me the appropriate statistics for Australia, I'll include them in the next newsletter.


Women's Flexibility Is a Liability (in Yoga) *
"Those extreme yoga poses that feel like they're pulling your hips out of the sockets? They might."

Soft Paternalism

When Medical Experts Disagree

How should doctors and patients react to the latest findings that come out about health concerns? How do you know whom to trust? A NY Times Room for Debate * article had a variety of viewpoints. Modern medical science does NOT always have all the easy answers. It's well worth a read.


I'm Thinking. Please Be Quiet. * explains how "Noise is the supreme archenemy of all serious thinkers." Noise is almost inescapable. What does that say about our future?

Vive la difference

  • In the science section of a recent edition of The Economist, there was an article called Vive la différence!. It begins, "A new technique has drawn wiring diagrams of the brains of the two sexes. The contrast between them is illuminating." The diagrams showing brain connections were the averages from nearly 1000 individuals. They are so different that the diagram alone is worth a look.
  • Why the Y? *
    "The shrinking Y chromosome still important. In a battle of the sexes 200 million years in the making, the willful Y chromosome fights to hold its ground."
  • Selling That New-Man Feeling *
    "Tired? Listless? Testosterone therapy is in fashion, but critics say it's based on unclear science — and driven by marketing."

TPP Follow Up

In the Your Health section in the last newsletter I had a bit about how the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement might affect your health care. I've since learned that it might affect the environment's health and thus, indirectly, yours. "Under the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, Australia could be forced to pay foreign corporations not to dig up or destroy its coastline or native forests. Sound's crazy? Apparently it's already happened in Mexico under a similar agreement.

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Thinking Fast & Slow — Follow Up

In my last newsletter, I had a section about a book called Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahnemann. I've since come across two very different articles which follow on from that.

  • From The Economist, Nothing more than feelings begins, "Admen have made a marketing guru of Daniel Kahnemann, a prize winning psychologist."
    The story referred to an ad that, on most rational measures, should have failed. It was a tremendous success. Click the link and see what you think.
  • From New Scientist, Your instinctive genius begins, "Some snap decisions are surprisingly smart. That's because a little scientist inside your head takes care of the mathematics." It seems that in many cases Kahnemann's system one makes some very scientific decisions.

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Our Society — Things to Make You Think

I'll start with a wonderful quote. "In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." Friedrich Nietzsche

We tend to take our society for granted. We live in it every day. But, sometimes it's good to take a step back and look more closely. Are we going in the direction we'd like to be going. If not, is there anything we can do about it. What follows is a collection of articles which I found interesting, articles which made me think. I hope you enjoy them.


In October,New Scientist had an article called Civilisation's True Dawn which explains how recent research has suggested that civilisation and large communal structures came before agriculture. "The discovery of huge temples thousands of years older than agriculture suggests that culture arose from spiritual hunger, not full bellies."

Population — Who are We?

In Europe and Japan, population is declining. Germany Fights Population Drop * explains that, "As the German population shrinks and towns work hard to hide the emptiness, demographers say a similar fate awaits other countries in Europe, with frightening implications for the economy and the Continent's psyche."

America and Australia are both still increasing in population due to immigration. That increase masks a real change. Census Benchmark for White Americans: More Deaths Than Births *
"The data, recorded for the first time in at least a century, showed further evidence that white Americans will become a minority within three decades." It may take longer, but, for better or worse, the same thing is happening in Australia.

In many ways, Australia follows an American lead. Our society is no where near as dysfunctional as America's, but, if we are not careful, we could head in the same direction. A Nation Divided Against Itself * explains how "America is quickly splitting itself into two separate countries, regional enclaves of rigid politics." I look at Australia and see hints that we are slowly moving in the same direction.

From The Economist, Why Americans are so angry talks about a deep lack of trust in American society. "Americans are dangerously angry. But when they voice Italian levels of distrust for authorities, or sweepingly accuse fellow-citizens of being crooks, they are not describing reality. Here is a theory: Americans are instead revealing how deeply they are divided."
Australia is a long way from being as divided as America, but the divisions are growing. Could we reach the state described in the article? Not in the next few years, but, 10 years down the track ... who knows?

Growing Inequality

Inequality Is a Choice * explains that, "Income inequality results more from political decisions than economic forces."
"Last year, the top 1 percent of Americans took home 22 percent of the nation’s income; the top 0.1 percent, 11 percent. Ninety-five percent of all income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent. Recently released census figures show that median income in America hasn't budged in almost a quarter-century. The typical American man makes less than he did 45 years ago (after adjusting for inflation); men who graduated from high school but don’t have four-year college degrees make almost 40 percent less than they did four decades ago."

Inequality is not as pronounced in Australia as it is in America. "Currently the full-time minimum wage is $16.37 per hour or $622.20 per week. This means that most employees in the national system shouldn't get less than this. Casuals covered by the national minimum wage get an extra 24% ($20.30 per hour)." At current exchange rates, the minimum wage in America is about half that and casuals don't get anything extra.

Inequality here is growing, but we don't have to follow the American example. Moving to Australia was one of the best things I ever did. Will we manage to keep our society as a place where that remains true?

The Extra Legroom Society * explains that, "It's not just airplanes. Increasingly, America is a land with precise microclimates of exclusivity."

How Technology Wrecks the Middle Class * explains that "Technology is creating jobs — but at the upper and lower ends of the spectrum." The social divide grows ever larger.

A Lost Generation

Young and Educated in Europe, but Desperate for Jobs * "High unemployment in countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece is hitting young people hardest as they take jobs below their skill level and seek work abroad."
Youth unemployment is not quite as bad overall in Australia, but it's just as bad in some areas. "The unemployment rate for 15 to 19-year-olds looking for full-time work in July was 25.5 per cent. Within the 10 areas listed by the federal Department of Human Services as the top areas of disadvantage in Australia, the youth unemployment rate rises to more than 40 per cent." Are we on the way to destroying a generation?"

Caught in Unemployment's Revolving Door *
"Some economists fear that the long-term unemployment crisis affecting millions of Americans might be a permanent change, with far-reaching and damaging consequences."

It's not as bad here, but the current percent of long term unemployed is higher than at any time since 2002. A good summary is in a story in the Guardian, Without training the long-term unemployed haven’t got a hope, or if you prefer the dry statistics, here are the latest statistics on long term unemployment from the Australian Bureau of statistics.

On a much more positive note, Millennial Searchers * explains that, "Young adults born after 1980 are more altruistic than they are given credit for."

Never forget. Money can't buy everything. Poverty can't buy anything.

An even younger generation

Are Kids Too Coddled? *
"There are sports teams and leagues in which no kid is allowed too much more playing time than another and in which excessive victory margins are outlawed. Losing is looked upon as pure trauma, to be doled out gingerly. After one Texas high school football team beat another last month by a lopsided score of 91-0, the parent of a losing player filed a formal complaint of bullying against the winning team’s coach." And on it goes. Life is full of surprises, often unpleasant. By trying to shield children from everything "bad", are we destroying their future?

The Economy

Remember the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2008? Think it can't happen again? Think again. A single company has the potential to bring down the whole world economy.

The Dec 7-13 edition of The Economist had two stories about that company.

  • The rise of Black Rock notes that it has "$4.1 trillion of directly controlled assets (almost as much as all private-equity and hedge funds put together) and another $11 trillion it oversees through its trading platform, Aladdin." What happens if something that big makes a mistake?
  • The main article, The Monolith and the markets begins "Getting $15 trillion in assets on to a single risk-management system is a huge achievement. Is it also a worrying one?"
    Read it and decide for yourself.

Think you live in a capitalist society? Think again. "In so many parts of our economy, despite our free-market image, the UK remains in the grip of anti-competitive cartels, driven only to strive for self-preservation through lobbying and legislation — not least in our financial sector" That quote was hidden deep in a John Mauldin newsletter back in July. the quote refers to Britain but I think it applies almost as well to the US and Australia. Here's another quote about the US. "This period of globalization and the inflation of our profits bubble has been facilitated in part by a corporate capture of government policy, inhibiting competition, depressing investment, and promoting rent seeking ... For several decades, under governments led by both parties, the close nexus between Wall Street and Washington has facilitated an economic policy that favors politically savvy corporations and too-big-to-fail megabanks." This quote is from The Profits Bubble an article which explains why so many are doing so badly while corporate profits are near record highs. It's not quite as bad in Australia, but we are getting there.

In Why Innovation Is Still Capitalism's Star * "An economist says his own experience in starting a business has helped shape his thinking on the subject of capitalism and culture." He also explains how our society is becoming less and less capitalist.

In a similar vein, Toy Story * says that "America is still the birthplace of inventions. But for how long?"
Australia is at least as inventive as America, but we are much worse at bringing those inventions to market.

Prohibition failed in the US in the 1920s. It doesn't work now. America's "War on Drugs" has done little effect beyond putting thousands of people in gaol. In Big Pot *, the author asks, "Can capitalism end the drug war?" Time to think outside the box?

Living on the edge. "We exist, without always having to, on the edge. Or, rather, on one edge after another, some of our own making, others avoidable if we could just summon the maturity, discipline and will." Don’t Look Down *, an opinion piece in the NY Times, explains how, from euro uncertainty to our own debt battles, we're too used to hovering over near catastrophe.

What Really Matters

Stop for a minute. Forget the economy, technology and all the other things that add pressure to our lives. Never forget the things that really matter. "The old values are unchanging, of course. And they are still the ones that bring us true pleasure and joy. The love of family and friends, those deep conversations that bring insight and clarity, a well-told story, and a perfect tomato. A new TV may amaze, but the light in a child’s face brings a joy that is unmatchable." John Mauldin

I've met many wonderful people and made many good friends through Willis's Walkabouts. Thank you all.

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Willis's Walkabouts: Past, Present and Future

The Past

The ad that began it all

Little did I know. In late 1983, I put a small ad in the December 17-18 Weekend Australian offering two wet season trips in early 1984 when I'd taken a year's leave without pay to go travelling. Both trips went. February will mark the 30th anniversary of my first paying customer. I didn't expect it to go on for so long or to be so rewarding (not so rewarding financially, but you can't have everything). Feeling nostalgic? Have a look at a bit more of the page where my ad appeared. Your dollar went a bit further back then.

Daryl Bailey, the client on the March 1984 Kakadu trip has put a 1984 Kakadu photo gallery on his Facebook page.

It has been an interesting journey. I've been told that I am the only individual or organisation who has made a submission for every one of Kakadu's Plans of Management. the Our History page on our website says more and, if you're curious, it includes links to two magazine articles about me that appeared in 2011 and 2012.

The Present

As stated in the last newsletter, 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.


Help! Thank you to those few people who sent photos, but still need more. Can any one else help with photos you think typify what Willis's Walkabouts is about.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In the last newsletter, I showed some of the ads we've used in the past. They don't work. Since the last newsletter went out, I've gone through all the bookings we've had over the past three years. The results are both very good and very bad.

  • Excellent. 52% of our clients were repeat customers. This is better than most, if not all, tour operators in the areas where we operate.
  • Very good. 63% of our new clients said they came based on recommendations from friends. (A few mentioned other sources as well.) In 2013, the figure was 79%! That's outstanding.
  • Good. 23% (39% in 2013) mentioned our website. (Some mentioned other things as well.)
  • Not bad. Our paid ads used to produce a decent return. 23% of our repeat customers mentioned our paid ads when they were asked where they first heard about us. 16% mentioned our ads without mentioning something else.
  • Awful. 2011 wasn't too bad but in the last two years, only 9% of our new clients mentioned one of our paid ads. Only 4% mentioned our ads without mentioning something else like friends or our website. Even using the larger figure, it's costing more than $5000 to get one new customer.
    Our ads used to work better. What's changed?

I need to know why my paid advertising no longer works or I need to phase it out altogether.

Thanks for any help you can give.

The Walkabouts Website

In some ways, our website is outstanding. In the past year, 10% of all visits were for ten minutes or more. That number is increasing. That's great! the recently repaired search feature should make it easier to find things which interest you.

On the other hand, finding the website appears to be a problem for people who don't know about us. The search terms that I expected people to use hardly appear on the "organic search" list from Google Analytics. Others I didn't expect do. What are people looking for? I don't know and I need help!

If you have a spare moment, please let me know what terms you would use in a web search to try and find trips like ours.

If you are curious, here are some statistics about our website.

The Longer Term

Most of our trips take place in a tropical environment. Darwin's climate is not all that different to that of Jakarta. Recent research suggests that by 2029, Jakarta's coldest years may be warmer than the hottest years in the past. It's been 30 years since my first paying customer. Will we still be able to do the same walks in 16 years time? It's a scary thought.

By 2047, Coldest Years May Be Warmer Than Hottest in Past, Scientists Say *
"A new paper based on top climate models says that by about 2047, average temperatures across the globe will be higher than any highs recorded previously, with tropics hit earlier.... Under high emissions, the paper found a climate departure date of 2031 for Mexico City, 2029 for Jakarta and for Lagos, Nigeria, and 2033 for Bogotá, Colombia."

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"Slackpacking" is a South African term used to describe walks, generally multiday walks, where you do some substantial walking while carrying no more than a day pack. At night you stay in reasonably comfortable accommodation. Most of the walks on my recent trip to South Africa would be classed as slackpacking.

As they age (me too), many of our clients find that they find it ever more difficult to carry full packs. Ultralight walking, as mentioned in my October newsletter, goes some way toward overcoming the problem, but eventually even that can become difficult.

Examples of slackpacking in Australia include some of the vehicle supported trips on the Larapinta Trail, the Cradle Huts walk on Tasmania's Overland Track and the Great Ocean Road walk. I'm sure there are others. An American website Slackpacking.com explains slackpacking in some detail. They even have a page which lists a number of Australian slackpacking tours. (If the link to the Australian slackpacking tours doesn't work for you, you can get there by going tot the main Slackpacking.com page, clicking on "Hiking Vacations" in the left menu, then scrolling down and clicking on Australia.)

Lack of vehicular access and long distances make it very difficult to run a decent slackpacking trip in the Top End or Kimberley. So far, the closest I've been able to come are Kakadu Light and the first two sections of the Green Kimberley trip. In the case of the Kakadu Light trip, carrying an overnight pack on the first section actually makes the trip easier than trying to cover the distance in a single day. There are links to five Kakadu Light information pages in the Gudjewg — The Wet Season section above.

Less water makes the necessary distances longer if you want to get to the most interesting places. I have yet to work out a late dry season Top End slackpacking trip I'd actually enjoy. However, I think I might be able to do it in April or May, but the work involved is such that I need a bit of interest before I try and work one out. The Kimberley, however, offers three possibilities. The first is a modification of our current Gibb Road Gorges trip. As far as I know, no one else is currently offering such a trip where you would actually walk for a full day on a number of occasions.

On the Mitchell Plateau and in the Carr Boyd Range, it would be possible to use helicopters to drop a group off at a base camp where they would do two or three day walks, then get picked up and shifted to the next base camp for another walk or two and so on. It wouldn't be cheap, but it wouldn't cost the absurd amounts that other Kimberley walking destinations would.

Patagonia is another destination that could provide a great slackpacking itinerary. The climbs on the day walks would, however, be a lot longer and steeper than on the Kimberley trips. It would have to include a lot of driving but some of the drives are truly spectacular.

South Africa. Most of our South Africa trips have included some slackpacking sections. It would be very easy to design a great trip that consisted of nothing else. to show what it's like, I put an albums from one of the slackpacking walks on the Willis's Walkabouts FaceBook page and put another on the main website.

If you think you might conceivably be interested in a slackpacking trip, please click this link to our slackpacking questionnaire.

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China — and Others

I had a big section about China in the last newsletter. As the Australian economy is so dependent on China, I thought it would be worthwhile adding a bit more.

Other Countries

France is one of the largest economies in Europe. Some think it's slowly (or not so slowly) heading for a disaster. Two recent articles from Newsweek explain why. both provoked outrage in France.

  • The Fall of France
    "The top tax rate is 75 percent, and a great many pay in excess of 70 percent. As a result, there has been a frantic bolt for the border by the very people who create economic growth – business leaders, innovators, creative thinkers, and top executives. They are all leaving France to develop their talents elsewhere."
  • Fall of France II: How a Cockerel Nation Became an Ostrich
    "freedom of expression still appears to be rather unwelcome when it comes to sizing up the economic reforms the European Commission is now demanding of France – reforms that paint a picture of a nation in denial, unnecessarily holding itself back from prosperity."

India is Asia's second largest economy. Some see it as, in some ways, a successor to China. India does, however, have some serious problems of its own.
Rains or Not, India Is Falling Short on Drinkable Water *
"That people in one of the rainiest places on the planet struggle to get potable water is emblematic of the profound water challenges that India faces. Every year, about 600,000 Indian children die because of diarrhoea or pneumonia, often caused by toxic water and poor hygiene, according to Unicef."

Emerging Economies
While the Australian economy is highly dependent on China, we sell lots of raw materials elsewhere. This article suggests that there is no where else to take up the slack if China slows down.
Emerging Markets, Hitting a Wall *
"As a result of various economic trends, developing nations may no longer be capable of sustained high-powered growth. "

Mexico — Surprise!
For Migrants, New Land of Opportunity Is Mexico *
"With Europe sputtering and China costly, the "stars are aligning" for Mexico as broad changes in the global economy create new dynamics of migration."

A number of you have done some trekking in Bhutan. Here's something that you probably weren't aware of at the time.
Bhutan Is No Shangri-La *
"How a tiny kingdom created a giant refugee crisis."

Pakistani Refugees and Australia
Why do they keep coming when we make them so unwelcome? This story gives part of the answer. Fleeing Pakistan Violence, Hazaras Brave Uncertain Journey *
"Ethnic Hazaras, who have borne the brunt of recent violence in Pakistan, are increasingly seeking refuge in Australia, but they must travel a long and perilous path to get there."

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Technology — Our Brave New World

Brave New World. I'm showing my age again. How many of you remember where the term first came from? I find technological advances fascinating — and occasionally a bit unnerving. Here are some of the more interesting stories that I've found in the past year and a bit.


Innovation Imperative: Change Everything *
Online education is beginning to show itself as a disruptive innovation, introducing more convenient and affordable services that can transform sectors.
In Australia, we have HELP (used to be HECS) and student debts that last a long time. In America Student Loans Are Becoming a Drag on the US Economy. "Student loans now top $1 trillion, and 81% of the most burdened borrowers — those with more than $40,000 of student debt — have private loans with interest rates of 8% or higher." One trillion dollars! $1,000,000,000,000!. It's one of the fastest growing forms of debt. Something has to give and that something may be the existence of many American university campuses as the weaker ones get replaced by cheaper online learning.

  • Australian students are much better off. HELP/HECS debt does not incur interest charges and total student debt is only about 40% of what it would be if we had the same per capita student debt. Lost HECS debt $6.2 billion, and rising points out the negative effect on government revenues but at least we are producing graduates who have a chance of repaying their debt.

The Disrupters * is a series of articles from the one link which talk about "New degree programs that change the fundamental model of higher education." Online education may not have arrived in a big way yet in Australia, but it is coming.

Big Data

Big Data's Little Brother *
"Start-ups are gathering data and analyzing it much faster than was possible even a couple of years ago, aiming to project economic trends from seemingly unconnected information."
I suspect this is a trend which is going to change our lives in ways as yet unimagined.

Worldwide, it is estimated that the internet consumes around 10% of world's total electricity. 20 years ago, the internet barely existed. Figures like this make you wonder what the future may hold.


In my September 2012 newsletter, I had an article about drones. Here are a few more stories to add.

  • Welcome to the personal drone revolution an article from a New Scientist in December 2012 begins with "Sophisticated, affordable airborne robot drones could soon be so commonplace that they will become our personal servants"
    Far fetched? Read it and decide for yourself.
  • Domestic Drones Stir Imaginations, and Concerns * explains how, in America, "companies, universities and lawmakers in the United States are preparing for a world in which remote-controlled planes will be ubiquitous in civilian air space."
    The article comes with an associated video. *
  • A recent edition of The Economist had an article called Death by dehogaflier which tells how drones are being used to control wild pigs in America. Given the immense damage that feral pigs cause in Australia, maybe we should consider something similar here.
  • Europe at Ease With Eyes in the Sky * explains that, "Despite general skittishness about electronic surveillance, European officials seem more open to civilian drones than regulators in the United States."
  • New Scientist recently reported that a fleet of drones recreantly were used to map the Matterhorn in unprecedented detail. The link includes a short video showing the drones at work.


Bicycles? Start-Up Reinvents the Bicycle Wheel * Superpedestrian announced that it will being selling the Copenhagen Wheel, which can make any bicycle into a motorized hybrid e-bike.
The Copenhagen Wheel replaces the rear wheel of a bicycle. It includes a motor powered by a built-in battery and sensors. When someone pedals with the new wheel in place, the bike uses sensors and an app on a smartphone to measure the amount of effort the rider is putting into each pedal. It then offers an additional boost when necessary.



In-Room Entertainment Turns Away From TV * explains that "Hotels are less interested in television hardware than in getting the Internet into every room, and delivering what entertainment the guest may prefer." Personally, wifi is something I look for when booking a hotel. TV doesn't make the slightest difference.

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Beauty & Nature — Just for Fun

  • Snow Art
    It looks like a crazy guy just walking around in the snow. Then you zoom out and....
  • Video: Reptilian Smarts *
    New research is showing that lizards, turtles and snakes are more intelligent than previously believed.
  • About Bats
    Everything you might want to know about bats. Click the links to find out even more.
  • The Geopolitics of the Gregorian Calendar
    I bet you never realised how political our calendar is.
  • Birdman
    This kind of flying isn't for me and it probably isn't for you, but it is certainly spectacular. It's a 16 minute video, sorry about the short commercial at the start.
  • Words without translations and concepts that cannot be properly explained across cultures.
    11 words from 11 languages which cannot be expressed in a single word in English.
  • What happens when you wring out a wet towel in space. Watch this short video and see for yourself.
  • 40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World
    A bit of fun as well as knowledge. interesting to see how Australia fares in some of them.
  • Gurruku Nature Photography has some great Top end nature photos.
  • The Power of Words
    this was sent to me just after Christmas. I only just managed to have a look. It said something to me — I need to change some words somewhere. I hope it says something to you.

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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.

I hope that 2014 is a great year for you all.
Russell Willis

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