Willis's Walkabouts Top-Level Menu

Newsletter 71, March 2014 - Willis's Walkabouts

Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 71, March 2014

Dreams and Nightmares — This newsletter has both. Even before I sent the last newsletter, I knew that there would be something sad to report in this one. I didn't know just how much there would be.

As much as I hate to cancel trips where people have booked, it's not fair to keep people hanging on for too long. There are a few trips that will have to go unless they get more bookings within a week after this newsletter comes out. See Last Chance for details.

If you want to get a better understanding of the world's weather, click the last link in Climate and Weather. Absolutely amazing.

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.

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

A Dream Come True?

Not one dream but five. There are certain trips which I'd really like to do either because they are something new or because it's been far too long since I've been there. I have bookings on five such trips this year. Three of them will run, at least in part. The other two need more bookings in the next month.

  • King George: 11-24 May
    At the end of my last trip to the area in 2012, I met some people who had done some rock art research in the area. They told me about a collection of sites I hadn't seen before. We should be able to visit them toward the end of section one. Section one is a defnite departure.
  • Litchfield-Gregory: 8-21 June
    It's been a long time since we had any interest in this trip. When the first booking came in, I decided I needed to dig out some photos. The photos were old, faded slides, but the memories came rushing back. I'd really love to be able to go back and see it all again. I hope the photos I've put into the trip notes give at least a hint of what the walks would be like.
    The trip notes were completely revised and updated on 9 March.
  • Drysdale River No. 2: 15-28 June
    I haven't managed to get to either of the two areas we may visit since the 1990s. The photos in the updated trip notes are scans of old slides. They don't do justice to the area but they do hint as to why I'd really like to go back.
    The trip notes were completely revised and updated on 3 March.
  • Charnley Explorer: 13 July - 10 August
    The second, three-week section is magnificent (and a definite departure) but it's the first section that excites me. I've never been there. It's not often I get to go somewhere completely new in the Top End or Kimberley.
    The trip notes were completely revised and updated on 27 February.
  • Scandinavian Autumn: August-September 2014
    Ever since I discovered the wonders of the Swedish and Norwegian huts, I've wanted to go back. Unless there is a cancellation, this is now a definite departure.

Return to top

Your Health

The Most Amazing Story Here


Why do we have to rest? Meet your brain's janitorial staff.

Goodnight. Sleep Clean * explains how "sleep may play a crucial role in our brain's physiological maintenance. As your body sleeps, your brain is quite actively playing the part of mental janitor: It's clearing out all of the junk that has accumulated as a result of your daily thinking."
"When we skip sleep, we may be doing irreparable damage to the brain, prematurely aging it or setting it up for heightened vulnerability to other insults." In America, "Some 80 percent of working adults suffer to some extent from sleep deprivation. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should sleep seven to nine hours. On average, we're getting one to two hours less sleep a night than we did 50 to 100 years ago and 38 minutes less on weeknights than we did as little as 10 years ago. Between 50 and 70 million people in the United States suffer from some form of chronic sleep disorder. When our sleep is disturbed, whatever the cause, our cleaning system breaks down."


Tropical Diseases

One of my readers sent me an article from New Scientist, America's Hidden Epidemic which explains how tropical diseases like malaria are spreading in the US. Australia is a much more tropical country than America. The following information is from Peter Whelan, an expert in mosquitoes and mosquito borne diseases, recently retired from NT Health. As you will see, we have the potential to have much bigger problems in the future than we do now.

Dengue fever is present in Australia. It is only transmitted in Australia in north Qld where the dengue mosquito Aedes aegypti is present. The main areas of localised outbreaks are centred around Cairns and Townsville, and are the result of the virus being periodically imported from overseas by travellers or tourists. These outbreaks are brought under control by Queensland health in vigorous campaigns of detection, and then trapping and spraying for mosquitoes on a house by house basis. So the disease is not endemic, yet.

The big danger on the horizon is the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) that has been established in the Torres strait and is presently being contained there by an intensive receptacle treatment and spray program. If this mosquito gets onto the mainland, we will have a vastly bigger dengue threat, as this mosquito can spread to temperate areas as well as the tropics. Darwin and the rest of the NT does not have either of these mosquitoes so you currently cannot contract dengue in the NT.

However the dengue mosquito is detected at our ports on a regular basis. It has been detected after becoming established in the NT three times in the last 10 years, with the establishments at Tennant Creek and Groote Eylandt taking over a million dollars and two years each to eradicate by NT Health. These incursions were probably the result of people transporting eggs in receptacles from either Queensland or overseas. The last establishment was in Tennant Creek but has not been detected in the last few months by the current control and detection program run by NT health, and will hopefully be declared eradicated in April. Very recently the dengue mosquito has been detected as incursions near airports in three states. So we are under constant threat of these mosquitoes becoming established.

However we do have many species of Anopheles mosquitoes that can transmit malaria. The NT and the northern tropics was endemic for malaria but Australia was declared free of malaria in the 70's, with the last Australian outbreak in the Roper River area and the last endemic case in 1962 at Roper River. Overseas travellers can bring in the parasite in their blood after contracting it in tropical countries. If our local Anopheles bit untreated and undetected malaria patients, we could see localised outbreaks. Fortunately we have health programs to detect and treat these people, and occasionally NT health authorities have to spray areas to reduce localised threats from one of these risk patients.

Gnathostomiasis. This first appeared in Australia a couple of years ago when a couple contracted the potentially fatal parasite after eating a fish they caught in the Calder River. We go to the Calder. Fortunately,"the infection, which cannot be transmitted between humans, could be avoided by cooking freshwater fish thoroughly." if you'd like more information, see the article from the Medical Journal of Australia, Gnathostomiasis — First Confirmed Cases Acquired.

Act Now

  • When Bacteria Can No Longer Be Stopped * asks "How we can avoid a future where antibiotics are no longer useful?"
    Antibiotics didn't come into general use until WWII. When the first arrived, death rates from bacterial infections dropped dramatically. But, bacteria evolve amazingly quickly. Every year, more and more bacteria become resistant to more and more of our existing antibiotics. What will the future bring?
  • The best way to solve the infection problem is not to become infected in the first place. Cleaning the Mobile Germ Warehouse * explains how, "Tablets and cellphones can transmit disease, so cleaning them regularly should be more than an aesthetic preference."

Pharmageddon Update

In the Your Health section of my last newsletter, I had a section called "Pharmageddon" which referred to the fact that adverse drug reactions (ADRs)had become one of the leading causes of death in America. I noted that I had been unable to find similar statistics for Australia finished with "If anyone can show me the appropriate statistics for Australia, I'll include them in the next newsletter." Thanks to an Australian pharmacist who has not to be named, I now have some information I can pass along. The pharmacist noted that, "The problem may be related to the actual properties of the drug, but importantly, may be a consequence of the patient being prescribed, administered (or taking) the wrong drug or wrong dose etc."

Do we have a problem? A 2009 paper published on the Australia and New Zealand Health Policy website Medication safety in acute care in Australia: where are we now? Part 1: a review of the extent and causes of medication problems 20022008" concludes, "Medication-related hospital admissions remain a significant problem in the Australian healthcare system. It can be estimated that 190,000 medication-related hospital admissions occur per year in Australia, with estimated costs of $660 million. Medication incidents remain the second most common type of incident reported in Australian hospitals."

Yes, we have a problem. If only it were simple. Here is some more information if you are interested in the topic.

  • The PBS government website statistics state, "The TGA's reporting system for adverse drug reactions began in the late 1960's with the computerised database dating back to November 1972. At the end of 2010 there were approximately 233,300 reports of suspected adverse drug reactions in the database."
    220,000 in 28 years or 190,000 in one year. The definitions have to be different. The pharmacist told me that,
    1. "The PBS figures give you usage figures and much the Federal government's reimbursement program paid for medicines in the relevant time period. However, it doesn't include medicines prescribed in state funded hospitals or private prescriptions ie non reimbursed medicines. The PBS data covers about 80% of total medicine usage in Australia, but gives no information on adverse effects."
    2. "The TGA's Adverse Drug Reactions database is a spontaneous reporting system, ie it relies on a health professional identifying a problem and reporting it on their own initiative to the TGA or the manufacturer. If a manufacturer receives a report of an ADR, they are obliged to report it to TGA. However, it is acknowledged that only a fraction of all ADRs are reported via this system. Here's the link to the TGA information and database.
      In contrast the study on medication related admissions sought to actively identify problems. Hence the apparent discrepancy in the figures."
    3. "Death rates specifically due to ADRs. The ABS website includes a publication on the causes of death in Australia. There is not a category ADRs per se and you'd need to spend quite a while trying to find the various subcategories that relate to drug problems. Even then I doubt it will be very informative as the focus is on causes such a poisoning, drug ODs ( eg heroin). For example, if a patient dies due to a blood disorder such as neutropenia caused by a drug, then the cause of death could be recorded as neutropenia (or blood disorder) rather than the causative agent (the drug)."
  • A 2006 study Repeat adverse drug reactions causing hospitalisation in older Australians noted that "Repeat ADR-related hospitalizations have consistently increased faster than first-time ADRs in the elderly in WA from 1980 and had reached 30.3% of all ADRs by 2003."
  • Another study High risk prescribing in older adults will look at a group of "267,153 men and women aged 45 and over from the state of NSW, randomly sampled from the Medicare Australia database," hopes to, among other things, "Estimate the prevalence of high risk prescribing" and "Quantify the relationship of high risk prescribing to adverse health outcomes".

It will be interesting to see what comes of the current research. It would also be interesting to know why we don't have better nformation.

Alternative Medicine & Dietary Aids

The section above referred to prescription drugs. The problem goes well beyond that.

Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids * explains that, in America, "Dietary supplements now account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals, up from just 7 percent a decade ago, analysts say." That's America, I wondered what the situation was here in Australia.

According to Wikipedia, "Alternative medicine products are not subject to the same governmental quality control standards, and consistency between doses can vary. This leads to uncertainty in the chemical content and biological activity of individual doses. This lack of oversight means that alternative health products are vulnerable to adulteration and contamination." That didn't sound good but I dug further.

My pharmacist friend said that, "In Australia, we don't have dietary aids as a category of products. Products here are either 'Foods' regulated by the ANZ Food Standards Association, or if a product meets the definition of a 'Therapeutic Good' (see TGA.gov.au for a definition) they are Complementary medicines regulated by TGA. Requirements for reporting ADRs due to complementary medicines are as point 2 above."

According to the Victorian Government Better health website, Complementary medicines made in Australia are subject to strict product safety and quality regulations. This may not be the case in other countries. Look for Australian-made products that are marked 'Listed Aust R' or 'Registered Aust R', which means these product were manufactured in a laboratory licensed by the TGA:
Listed — this means the product is considered low risk and has been assessed for safety and quality.
Registered — this means the product is considered higher risk and has been assessed for safety, quality and how well it works. The TGA assesses efficacy and safety by looking at data that are required to be provided by the manufacturer.

My conclusion is that if it's made in Australia, you should get what is on the label. If it's made elsewhere, you take your chances. If someone can show me why that's wrong, please do so. If anyone wants very detailed information on the subject, the Department of Health Therapeutic Goods Administration website, An overview of the regulation of complementary medicines in Australia has detailed information.

Return to top

Last Chance


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. We still have two Banggerreng departures available.

  • Karijini National Park: 6-19 April 2014.
    Only one place is left. 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.
  • 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.
  • Special offer. I enjoy this trip so much and it's been so long since I've done it that I guaranteed the departure for only three people. I'd prefer a somewhat larger group so I'm now offering a $500 discount to the anyone who books and quotes this newsletter. No other discounts apply with this offer.

May through July

We already have bookings on so many trips that that we will have to cancel any trip and probably any section of any trip which begins in the months of May through July which doesn't have bookings before 26 March. See the latest version of our trip list for a complete list.

  • 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.
    Special offer. We do not yet have the bookings we need to run section two so we are offering an $200 discount to anyone who books the full trip or section two on its own. Section two will be cancelled if we don't have the bookings we need to run it within a week after this newsletter goes out.
  • Kimberley Highlights No. 1: 18-31 May
    Section one needs only one more booking to become a definite departure. Section two needs three.
    Special offer. We will leave the 10% advance purchase discount open for a week after this newsletter goes out. In addition to that and our other normal discounts, book section one on its own and we'll give you an extra $100 discount. Book section two or the full trip and we'll give you an extra $200 off.
    If we don't have the bookings we need to run either section within a week after this newsletter goes out, it will be cancelled.
  • Litchfield-Gregory: 8-21 June
    If we don't get the bookings we need to run this trip by 8 April, it will be cancelled.
  • Drysdale River No. 2: 15-28 June
    If we don't get the two bookings we need to run this trip by 15 April, it will be cancelled.
  • Kakadu Circle No. 2: 22 June - 5 July
    Two sections, either of which can be done on its own. For more detailed information see the trip notes.
    Only two places left on section two.
  • Durack Explorer: 29 June - 12 July
    Special offer. It took us so long to finalise the new transport arrangements that we are leaving the 20% advance purchase discount open until 14 March. If everyone who has said they want to come confirms, there are only three places left on this trip.


  • 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.
    There is now only one place remaining on this trip.
  • South Africa. Two of the three people booked on our 2014 South Africa trip have told us that they will have to cancel if we don't get the other two bookings we need to run the trip by 7 April. In addition to the things listed in the trip notes, we will also include the Wellington Wine Walk that we did in 2013.

Return to top

Climate and Weather


Darwin has climate records going back a long time. When I first did the climate tables in my Bushwalking Guide, Darwin had an average of 8 days a year where the temperature reached 35°C or more. Today it's 10.8 — an increase of over a third in 25 years. For an average over many years, that's a huge difference.

Our tides have been getting higher. It's not a huge difference but it is noticeable. I was so surprised by the damage done in a recent storm that I've prepared a page comparing the before and after.

Extreme Events

Fast happening events like floods in Europe or the recent typhoon in the Philippines make headlines in Australia. Some things which take place over longer periods of time may actually cause more long term damage but since there is no dramatic event, we seldom hear about them. Here are a few stories from the US and one from Australia.

  • Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States *
    "Drought and population growth are driving a reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest's only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation's fastest-growing regions."
  • Severe Drought Grows Worse in California *
    "The problem is visible from the Sierra Nevada to the farmlands in the southern part of the state, and it threatens to cause major hardship."
  • Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing Worst *
    An update on the story above. "The punishing drought that has swept California is now threatening the state's drinking water supply."
    California supplies a lot of America's food. What happens when it can't be grown?
  • Parts of the US may be running low on water, but farm Subsidies are Leading to More Water Use "From Wyoming to the Texas Panhandle and the Midwest, water tables have fallen." And they keep falling just as they are here in Australia. What's going to happen when the aquifers finally run dry>
  • Where Sand Is Gold, the Reserves Are Running Dry *
    "Storms, tides and a rising sea level are swallowing up chunks of beach along Florida's coastline, but there is almost no sand left offshore to replenish the beaches."
  • Cuomo Seeking Home Buyouts in Flood Zones *
    "Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal to spend as much as $400 million to buy homes wrecked by Hurricane Sandy would be among the most ambitious purchase programs ever undertaken."
    Amazing! — a politician taking a genuinely long term view.
  • Contrast the above with the situation in Florida. When private insurance companies balked at insuring against hurricanes in areas which had suffered repeated damage over the years, the Florida legislature created the Citizens Property insurance Corporation which, according to the information on the Wikipedia site is seriously undercapitalised. The taxpayers will foot the bills.
  • Here in Australia, insurance companies have begun to realise that they can't cover their claims with their old premiums. Cairns residents stung by skyrocketing insurance premiums was the headline on a story in the Cairns Post. I suspect it's a similar story in bushfire prone areas. Maybe there will come a day when private companies refuse to insure some things at any price. Will we keep building in those areas using the government as an insurer of last resort, or will we have to give up and move to safer areas?

Industry Awakens to Threat of Climate Change

It's not just insurance companies taking note of climate change. Industry Awakens to Threat of Climate Change * tells how "Coca-Cola and other corporations are starting to see global warming as an economically disruptive force affecting commodity costs and supply chains."

Air Travel

Your Biggest Carbon Sin May Be Air Travel * tells how, "With President Obama declaring climate change a part of his second-term agenda, all eyes are on the United States on the matter of airlines' carbon emissions."
"One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10." ( Australia comes in just below the US according to the latest figures I could find.)

On the other hand, air traffic can have a moderating effect on global warming. Back in 2001, scientists had a chance to measure this when all flights in North America were grounded after 911. The BBC had an interview with a climate scientist who had examined the situation in detail.

Something Very Special

This is my personal favourite link in this newsletter. The World's Weather in 2013. It's worth watching a few times, concentrating your vision on different places like Australia on the second and subsequent viewings.

Return to top

Women in Society

Three totally different stories, the last of which, while it has a message, is pure fun.

  • The War on Women *
    "What is behind all the threats, venom and misogyny that women face online?" "... female writers come in for an extraordinary amount of abuse online many conservative and libertarian women also take a remarkable amount of sexual-political abuse. So it may be that the culture war cuts both ways, and a certain kind of left-wing narrative about gender — in which women are expected to hold liberal views just by virtue of being female — can become a license for allegedly progressive men to demean and dehumanize women who decline to play that part."
  • The Case for Filth *
    "A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we'll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor. ... The only possible solution to the gender divide on housework is for everyone to do a lot less of it."
  • A Viral Video Encourages Girls to Become Engineers *
    "The complicated Rube Goldberg machine in a viral video ad from a start-up toy company called GoldieBlox has a simple goal: to show girls that being an engineer is cool."
    Make sure you click the link to watch the video.

Return to top

Animal Tales

Animal Intelligence

  • Video: Reptilian Smarts *
    New research is showing that lizards, turtles and snakes are more intelligent than previously believed.
  • We have bred dogs for many traits. What would happen if we bred them for intelligence? Betsy a border collie living in Austria, "has a vocabulary of more than 340 words, which rivals that of the great apes, in terms of intelligence and lateral thinking. After hearing a word only twice, Betsy is able to decipher that the sound is a command or instruction and regards it as such.Betsy is believed to learn in the same way that human toddlers do, if not faster. Betsy is capable of interpreting the correlation between a two-dimensional photograph and the object it depicts, and is able to retrieve the item simply by seeing the image, despite never having seen the depicted object or the photograph before."
    Here's a story about Betsy from the BBC.
  • Bird Brain
    When you think of how small a bird's brain is compared to ours, you have to wonder if it might be more efficient. Here's a video of a crow solving a problem that requires eight separate stages that must be completed in a specific order.

Killing Animals

If you eat meat, you are responsible for killing animals. We have upset the balance of nature to the point where not culling some animal populations dooms them to a slow death by starvation. Here are three stories to make you think.

  • Roo the Day was published in the Weekend Australian. It argues that culling kangaroos in the wild is more humane than slaughtering other animals in an abattoir. the kangaroo "is slaughtered in the field where it grazes: for the animal, there is almost zero stress to the situation. One minute a (male) kangaroo is grazing in the wild and looking at a spotlight. The next it is dead." The author states, "I've never seen animals killed in an abattoir, but I've been in one. I've seen what happens next. I don't imagine they are great places for an animal to die."
    i think he has a point.
  • A Trophy Hunt That's Good for Rhinos * "Calm down, protesters. Namibia's conservation policy is working."
    Don't pass judgment until you read the article.
  • After I sent my last newsletter, i received an email from Di Thomson in Canberra asking that I highlight the damage being done by feral horses in the Australian Alps. Di wrote, "In November/December a group of NPA(ACT) walkers on a 9 day walk recorded horrific damage being done to KNP by some of the 14000 feral horses tearing apart our beloved park. I viewed the photo record with great sorrow at the devastation being done to these jewels of watercourses."
    "Opposition to the only really effective method of control; aerial shooting, is resulting in ongoing and escalating destruction by the current 14000 feral horses increasing by around 20% per year. A sleeper in this matter is the push to expand recreational horse riding into the wilderness areas of Kosciuszko, and that interest group has the support of the current NSW Government. All in all, a depressing scenario for the integrity of the environment, see my next email on the probable demise of Environmental Defenders Offices throughout Australia." If you'd like more information, have a look at the links below. They are all large files and may take a while to load.
    • 2013 Observations of Pest Horse Impacts in the Australian Alps
      This "Observations" Report is produced for general information and is a record of personal observations made by the authors for the Mt Pilot area of Kosciuszko National Park in 2013. It has been prepared within the context of the authors participating in inspections of this area over a period of 40 years from 1973 to 2013.
    • Caring for our Australian Alps Catchments is a report produced for the Australian government noted, among other things that, "Feral horses numbers were reported as having increased by 300% from 2003 to 2009 and are predicted to achieve a further 55% increase by 2012. Control action was needed given that feral horses contribute to erosion and pollution of the very highest catchments by grazing, trampling and by causing incision to mountain wetlands and streams."
      The report is a long one, full of photos and other illustrations. If you care about the future of Australia's Alpine region, you owe it yourself to have at least a quick browse.
    • Feral Horse Damage is a Flikr gallery of photos showing some of what's been happening.
    If you would like more information about this problem, please send me an email and I'll pass it along to Di.

Interesting Information

  • Video: How to Control Starfish *
    "During a meal, the stomach of a starfish comes out of its mouth and grabs hold of what it is eating. Figuring out what controls this process could mean good news for the coral that starfish feed on."
  • Video: The Physics of Ants *
    They can flow like a liquid and bounce back like a solid. Masses of fire ants show a duality that intrigues physicists.
  • Bats.org.au — everything you might want to know about bats

Pity Earth's Creatures

Pity Earth's Creatures * — Humanity's advances are intertwined with cancerous excess.
"Power to the people is a worldwide revolutionary slogan advancing democracy, but presupposes a more ancient meaning: the prehistoric conquest of every other vertebrate on earth."
The author laments just how divorced we've become from nature, what we have lost and are losing. I think it's well worth a read. And perfect timing for me.

I am writing this part of the newsletter on the afternoon of 12 March. This morning Darwin suffered it's biggest power failure in years. The power went off at 1 am. I was asleep and didn't notice. When I got up and turned on the radio (everyone in a cyclone-prone area should have a battery powered radio), I heard people moaning about how poorly they'd slept. No air conditioning. I couldn't help but think, people in Darwin live in the tropics. People who live in the tropics should live in houses that don't need air conditioning. When I first arrived, most people did. Now it's a rarity. That shows just how much we've become divorced from our environment in a relatively short time.

And that's why I (and many of you) so much enjoy getting out into the bush and back in touch with nature in a way that we can never do in a city or town.

Return to top

More 2014 Trips


Definite Departures The following trips are either already definite departures or will become so with one additional booking.

Other trips with bookings

  • King George, sec 2: 18-24 May
    This is the section that actually visits King George Falls. Special offer. While section one is a definite departure, section two is not. We are now offering a $200 discount to anyone who books the full trip or section two on its own..
  • Kimberley Highlights No. 1, sec 2: 25-31 May
    The Cockburn Range. Fly in with a helicopter so you can spend more time enjoying the incredible gorge scenery.
    Special offer. In addition to our normal discounts, book section one on its own and we'll give you an extra $100 discount. Book section two or the full trip and we'll give you an extra $200 off.
  • Litchfield-Gregory Explorer: 8-21 June
    On section one you visit one of the least known but best bushwalking parts of Litchfield; on section two you visit a little known corner of Gregory National Park. Only bushwalkers can appreciate either of these areas.
    Special offer. Step back five years in time. We are so keen to run this trip that we have dropped the price back to what we charged in 2009.
  • Drysdale River No. 2: 15-28 June
    Fly in and out with a float plane. Visit one of the greatest concentrations of rock art in the Kimberley.
    Special offer. Since we have many more on Drysdale 1 than on Drysdale 2 and have empty seats on the aircraft bringing the Drysdale 1 walkers out, we are now offering a $400 discount to the next four who book.
  • West Macdonnells: 15-28 June
    Our only 2014 trip to the Macdonnell Ranges. Two sections, either of which can be done on its own.
  • Kakadu Circle No. 3, section 1: 15-21 July
    Unlike section two, section one doesn't yet have the bookings we need to guarantee departure.
  • Kakadu Highlights No. 5: 29 June - 12 July
    Two sections, either of which can be done on its own.
  • Kakadu Family Walk No. 2: 6-12 July
    A special walk designed for families with children. We need only one more adult and one child to guarantee departure.
  • Kakadu Highlights No. 9: 7-20 September
    Three sections, any of which can be done on its own.
    See the trip notes for more detailed information.
  • 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.

All other trips which are still in our program are still available. We will have to cancel some of those by the end of march if they do not have bookings by then.


Definite Departures Unless we get a cancellation, the following trips are already definite departures.

  • Vanuatu: 5-23 August
    Only one place is still available.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    We should have more details by early April.

Other trips with bookings

  • Vanuatu 2: late August - September
    While we are not 100% sure we can run this trip, we already have two bookings.
  • South Africa. Two of the three people booked on our 2014 South Africa trip have told us that they will have to cancel if we don't get the other two bookings we need to run the trip by 7 April. In addition to the things listed in the trip notes, we will also include the Wellington Wine Walk that we did in 2013.

Return to top

American Politics and Indifference

While this section began as something about American indifference to international events, it has grown. To some extent, most of what follows is relevant to Australia — some very relevant. Much is, in fact, relevant to every western democracy.

Australia's Strategy

An essay from Stratfor, Australia's Strategy gave as good a picture of the Australian geopolitical reality as I've seen anywhere.

"Think of Australia as a creature whose primary circulatory system is outside of its body. Such a creature would be extraordinarily vulnerable and would have to develop unique defence mechanisms. This challenge has guided Australian strategy."

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."

The full article is well worth a read.

Do we have a realistic view of the world? More importantly, do the politicians and bureaucrats in Canberra have a realistic view of the world?
Why Machiavelli Still Matters * says, "Set aside what you would like to imagine about politics, Machiavelli writes, and instead go straight to the truth of how things really work. You will see that allies in politics, whether at home or abroad, are not friends."

Think about that. Would America come to Australia's aid in some future conflict if it was not in its own interest to do so?

American Politics

The following four articles from Stratfor should help you understand America as never before. The last one is particularly relevant to Australia. The problems facing the middle class in Australia aren't as severe as they are in America, but we are on that path.

  • The American Public's Indifference to Foreign Affairs. The article explains the situation better than anything I've seen elsewhere and concludes, "Americans might not be interested in the world, but the world is interested in Americans. Until this luxury comes to an end, the United States has ample assistant secretaries to give the impression that it cares."
  • The Election, the Presidency and Foreign Policy explains a reality that few people, including Americans want to confront.
    "The American presidency is designed to disappoint. Each candidate must promise things that are beyond his power to deliver. ...The power often ascribed to the U.S. presidency is overblown. But even so, people — including leaders — all over the world still take that power very seriously. They want to believe that someone is in control of what is happening. The thought that no one can control something as vast and complex as a country or the world is a frightening thought."
  • American elections are almost always close.
    "Since 1820, the last year an uncontested election was held, most presidential elections have been extremely close." ... "Eighteen elections ended with the president receiving less than 50 percent of the vote." There have only been four elections where one candidate received more than 60%.
    One reason that relatively few Americans vote may be that they "feel indifferent to the president and politics in general. They don't abstain because they are alienated from the system but because they understand the system as being designed such that outcomes don't matter. The Founding Fathers' constitutional system leaves the president remarkably weak. In light of this, while politically attentive people might care who is elected, the politically indifferent might have a much shrewder evaluation of the nature of the presidency.
  • The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power
    "What we are facing now is a structural shift, in which the middle class' center, not because of laziness or stupidity, is shifting downward in terms of standard of living. It is a structural shift that is rooted in social change (the breakdown of the conventional family) and economic change (the decline of traditional corporations and the creation of corporate agility that places individual workers at a massive disadvantage)."
    "It would seem to me that unless the United States gets lucky again, its global dominance is in jeopardy. Considering its history, the United States can expect to get lucky again, but it usually gets lucky when it is frightened. And at this point it isn't frightened but angry, believing that if only its own solutions were employed, this problem and all others would go away. I am arguing that the conventional solutions offered by all sides do not yet grasp the magnitude of the problem — that the foundation of American society is at risk — and therefore all sides are content to repeat what has been said before."
    The full article is well worth a read.

Why politicians can't tell the truth

Q. Why can't politicians tell the truth? A. We don't want them to.

The article Why politicians can't tell the truth appeared in the New Statesman The example is British but it holds true in most western democracies. The truth is often something voters don't really want to hear. (Example. People often want both better government services and lower taxes but the reality is that you can't have government services unless you tax people to pay for them.)

Return to top

Our Society — Things to Make You Think

The Love of Money

"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." 1 Timothy 6:10 King James Version (KJV)

For the Love of Money, * an Op Ed piece from the NY Times, believes that "We are letting money addiction drive too much of our society." Some people are addicted to alcohol, some to drugs, some to simple things like caffeine. And some are addicted to money. It's the latter that could destroy our society.

Reading Books

Reading Books Is Fundamental *
"The Pew Research Center recently reported that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn't cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audio book while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978."

"The details of the Pew report are quite interesting and somewhat counterintuitive. Among American adults, women were more likely to have read at least one book in the last 12 months than men. Blacks were more likely to have read a book than whites or Hispanics. People aged 18-29 were more likely to have read a book than those in any other age group. And there was little difference in readership among urban, suburban and rural population."

Having read that, I got curious. What were the figures for Australia? The best I could find was a Books Alive 2008 survey which said that 84% of Australians enjoyed reading books and that 63% had visited a bookshop in the last month. Those numbers seem a bit high, but there appears to be no doubt that we read more than Americans.

While on the subject of reading, New Scientist ran an article about some research that showed that Reading literary fiction makes you a nicer person. It's an interesting thought.

Technology Surprises

  • Technology Is Not Driving Us Apart After All *
    "It turns out, we may be more social than we were 30 years ago — at least in public spaces."
  • Will Digital Networks Ruin Us? * This essay talks about Jaron Laniers book Who Owns the Future? which "puts forth some provocative, unconventional ideas for ensuring that the inevitable dominance of software in every corner of society will be healthy instead of harmful."
    "If Google and Facebook were smart, they would want to enrich their own customers. So far, Silicon Valley has made 'the stupid choice — to grow their businesses at the expense of their own customers."


  • Anxious Youth, Then and Now *
    Today's millennials face many of the same concerns and challenges of the late 19th century, when the booms and busts of the Industrial Age tore apart the accepted order.
  • In The Thrill of Breathlessness, * Tim Winton argues that, "a diving death is a reminder that sometimes young people need to register the cold scorch of fear to feel truly alive."

Danger. Adventure. A youthful search for adventure has had a dramatic effect on my life. Details near the end of this newsletter.

Three that didn't fit elsewhere

  • In a Scoreboard of Words, a Cultural Guide *
    "How often have certain words or phrases appeared in books over time? A web tool offers answers, and insights into human history." It's not all that long ago that research like this would have been next to impossible.
  • Thinking for the Future *
    "What modes of thought will be most valuable in a future economy defined by machine intelligence?"
  • The Sweet Caress of Cyberspace *
    "Technology at once validates and erases us, blurring the line between flesh and figment."

A Formula for Happiness

A Formula for Happiness * tells how "Social scientists have determined three sources of supreme contentment: genes, events and values."

Return to top

The Conversation

The Conversation is a website supported and contributed to by universities across Australia. It is a good source of info on a huge range of topics, and you're probably more likely to get more accurate and less biased info than from our current newspapers. It's also free, so take a look. You might even want to bookmark the page.

Return to top

Slackpacking Update

I had a section about slackpacking in my last newsletter. I've definitely got some interest and will try and include a couple of slackpacking trips in next year's program.

If you think you might conceivably be interested in a slackpacking trip, and you haven't already done so, please click this link to our slackpacking questionnaire.

Return to top

What's New on Our Website

We update our website on a regular basis.

  • The Availability and Specials page gets updated every time another trip gets bookings, when we add or remove a special offer and when space becomes limited.
    This page includes a link to the latest version of our full trip list. We are already up to version 10 for this year.
  • The What's New page lists all other changes as we make them.

Return to top

Bushwalking News & Links

In my June 2013 newsletter, I mentioned a number of threats to national parks. One has now come to pass. Hunting has begun in some NSW National Parks.

Chris Towers, the current president of Bushwalking Australia has been writing a column for Great Walks magazine. I thought his column Be Prepared deserved a wider audience so I asked if I could include it here. They not only sent me that, they sent me a second one. The yellow highlighting is mine — how could I resist?

Bushwalking Organisations

  • Bushwalking Australia "is the National body representing the interests of bushwalkers and other recreational walkers. There are many issues affecting bushwalkers which extend beyond the boundaries of any one State or that require some level of national coordination or support."
  • Bushwalking NSW covers bushwalking in NSW. they also cover clubs in the ACT.
  • Bushwalking Victoria "is the peak body for all bushwalkers and bushwalking clubs in Victoria, Australia. We promote bushwalking and represent the interests of all bushwalkers."
  • The Federation of Western Australian Bushwalkers "is the Peak Body representing bushwalking interests in Western Australia."
  • Bushwalking Queensland "is the peak body that represents the interests of bushwalkers and members of affiliated bushwalking clubs in the state of Queensland.
  • Walking SA "is the not-for-profit peak body that leads, promotes and supports all forms of walking in South Australia, including walking for recreation, transport, health, wellbeing, organised events, adventure, environmental appreciation and fun experiences."
  • Bushwalking Tasmania. "The object of Bushwalking Tasmania is: 'To unite all associations actively concerned with bushwalking and mountaineering and advancement of their mutual interests'".
  • Bushwalk.com describes itself as "Information for bushwalkers from bushwalkers".

Bushwalking Magazines

I've advertised in them all. All their websites have interesting information. Some or all of them have free newsletters.

  • Wild
    This was the first bushwalking specific magazine in Australian. A tiny 1/9 page ad in Wild in 1985 is what really got Willis's Walkabouts started.
  • Great Walks provided me with two stories above.
  • Australian Geographic Outdoor began as an independent Outdoor Australia before joining the Australian Geographic banner some years ago.
  • Outer Edge just did a relaunch. Part of that relaunch was a special website. You can find us there at Outer Edge: Willis's Walkabouts.

Return to top

Trans Pacific Partnership Update

What does the government have to hide?

CHOICE calls for fair trade is a report from Choice magazine which begins, "Are you concerned about increasing cost of medicines? Would you worry if Australians could be jailed for illegally downloading an episode of Game of Thrones? Do you want to know if your muesli bar contains palm oil? Then you really should care about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement being negotiated in secret between Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam."

If the TPP is passed, it will effect you, your children and their children for generations to come. If you don't like the fact that an agreement negotiated in secret could give many of your rights away, you owe it to yourself to express your concerns to your elected officials.

Level playing field?

Australian farmers are among the world's least subsidised. The person who sent me the link, commented, "Free trade... what a wonderful idea. Shame we and NZ are the only ones playing the game by the rules. Hardly a level playing field. The rest of the countries are ripping us off big time and none of our pollies seem smart enough to realise it. No wonder our farmers and manufacturers are doing it so tough."

Sign the TPP and see what else we can give away.

Everything I have seen about the proposed agreement suggests it gives as much power as possible to private corporations at the expense of everyone else, including the elected governments who may yet pass it. If the Australian government and people are unwilling to take a stand, our best hope may be the ground swell of opinion against the treaty in the US itself.

We are, I believe, fortunate that organisations like Wikileaks are publicising leaked documents that would otherwise never see the light of day. Here are a few.

I think it's obvious that I don't like the proposal. I think it should be obvious to anyone who takes the time to read the details why that is the case.

Return to top

How Our World Would Look If You Were A Bird

Famous landmarks like the Arc de Triomphe, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Sagrada Familia have been photographed countless times, and they are recognizable to most of us. But this collection of stunning aerial photographs gives us a bird's-eye view of these places, casting them in a totally new light.

Most of the photos are of places or things that most of us could easily identify right away. The images illustrate just how much a change in perspective can alter. It's also worth noting that a few of these sites, like the Pyramids of Giza and the hotels of Dubai, were designed with an aerial perspective in mind. The designs of certain Dubai hotels can only be appreciated fully from above, and some theorize that the Pyramids of Giza were meant to be aligned with the stars in Orion's Belt.


Do It Yourself?

Civilian Photography, Now Rising to New Level *
"With a high-res camera slung under its belly, the Phantom 2 Vision drone takes video and stills from vantage points the photographer can't reach."
I don't know whether it's available or even legal to use one of these in Australia, but they ARE coming. It's only a matter of time.

Return to top

Sad Times and the Nightmare

A Life Well Lived

Bushwalking in Australia recently lost one of it's great pioneers, Alex Colley. If you enjoy bushwalking and appreciate the Australian natural environment, you ought to read the Sydney Bushwalkers tribute to this amazing man.

Alex was a tireless worker for the Colong Foundation for Wilderness for many years. Their tribute highlights his tireless support of the environment.

A Sad Ending for One of Our Best Guides

Patrick Barley

Patrick Barley began working for me in the early 1990s. Those who walked with him over the next 15 years all thought he was an excellent guide. I last saw him in early 2010 at which time he seemed quite normal. By September that year, another guide who had been talking to him described him as "not there" — serious dementia (probably Lewy body dementia) had taken hold. Patrick is the third of four brothers to be diagnosed with dementia. The other two have already passed away. The photo was taken last summer, when Patrick was still going for daily walks and swims. It's a great photo — full of life. He still looks just the same.

Patrick's partner took him to New Zealand in November 2012. The following information is from her.

Patrick has been in a resthome since late December. For about three months before that I couldn't go anywhere without him. I had to take him everywhere, even if I went for a quick walk down to the beach to shake out the kinks from sitting in front of the computer.

But things are going well now. The resthome is a small, family-run place on the coast, out in the country, surrounded by bush-covered hills. It's a peaceful and calming place. At first they were a bit concerned about how he'd settle in because he's so much younger and fitter than the rest of the residents — much fitter. I had to laugh when I turned up for a visit a couple of weeks in. They told me he'd "escaped" a couple of times. He couldn't understand why the gates were locked (he thought there must be dishonest people around) and so he simply climbed the fence to get out.

But it's become home to him now, to the point where he feels anxious when I take him out. Despite the memory loss and constant confusion, he's still Patrick. His personality is still intact. He's always cheerful, chatty, and pleased to see me. There's no sign of him forgetting me, but he has forgotten that he has kids and grandkids. (His youngest son, Nigel, won a silver medal in the 2012 Paralympics in London. How sad that his father doesn't even remember that he exists.) He remembers only two people from the past, one of whom is Russell.

During the last six months he was at home, he carried around a book called 60 Australian Poems — all the old bush poems. Every page was underlined and he'd scribbled in all the margins. He spent hours copying out the words and filling notebooks with underlined passages, reciting the poems over and over. He carried the book everywhere he went and panicked when he couldn't find it. When he went into the resthome I bought a backup copy, hating to think what would happen if he lost it. I felt that the book was his connection to Australia, to "home", and it took him to a place in his head where be belonged, where he felt good.

But he doesn't need that book now. The resthome, and in particular a close friend he has made there, have given him that sense of belonging. I couldn't have wished for anything better.

Dementia is a cruel, insidious disease, but despite the sadness of seeing him like this there is a blessing in knowing that at least he is not hurting.

.... While it's nice to know that I'm one of the few people he still remembers and that he seems content with his life, it is incredibly sad to think about what has happened to him.

The Nightmare

A youthful search for adventure gone wrong. If I haven't answered an email or returned a phone call, please forgive me but I've had other things on my mind. As much as I try and work normally, it's not entirely possible.

When I returned from my last trip on 11 February, I found an email from my sister saying that her only child, Harry, had gone missing in Mexico. On 25 January, Harry was travelling on his motorbike from J M's Butterfly B & B adjacent to the Cerro Pelon Butterfly Reserve to Zihuatanejo. At 3:18 that afternoon he sent a text to a friend saying, "Just got an hour and a half long escort out of some area it was too dangerous for me to be. Stopping for lunch and ... voila Internet. ... Gonna get back on the road soon. Apparently there's another military escort waiting for me in some other town... I'm running way late because of the crazy military stuff...hopefully get a chance to talk to you tonight when I (hopefully) finally arrive." No one has heard anything since.

A friend sent the following. "A well-placed friend of mine who has some connections has told me that kidnapping in Southern Mexico has increased dramatically over the last week or so (mainly police related). He says if Harry was abducted, typically the kidnappers in that region will wait a couple of weeks before making their demands, giving them time to go underground and cover their tracks. This allows them to figure out who they have. What Harry thought were Mexican military could have been Zetas — who are cartel-affiliated former military special forces. Zetas could have believed a white guy traveling alone was intelligence directed at their activities so they will want to know everything they can about the person and who else/what else might be going on in their area before taking any other actions —and this simply takes time. If they realize Harry is just a tourist in the wrong place, a ransom could be demanded. Harry could have been correct that it was Mexican military and abduction by some element of Mexican military could be related to recent anti-police kidnappings. If abduction is the reason Harry disappeared, it is possible you may not hear anything for a few more weeks.

It's more than a few weeks. We've heard rumours, but nothing has come of any of them. There is a Facebook page, Help find Harry dedicated to trying to find him, but .... nothing. Until we know otherwise, we'll keep hoping, but each passing day makes it less likely that there will be a happy ending.

Not long after I heard about my nephew's disappearance, I came across A Quandary for Mexico as Vigilantes Rise. * "In Michoacán State, where vigilantes battle drug cartel gunmen, Mexican officials face a decision on whether to disarm the loosely organized groups or allow them to continue fighting." That says just how bad it is in the area where Harry disappeared.

Please, if any of you know someone in Mexico who might be able to help or if you have any other suggestions, please let me know.

Thank you.

Return to top

News About This Newsletter


Before I finish one newsletter, I'm already working on the next. I often find that I've got too many interesting things for a single newsletter. I'm also always looking for other interesting items I can add. I'm particularly interested in environmental issues, especially those which might affect bushwalking and in the technology which is shaping our lives. As I said in the last newsletter, Suggestions welcome.

Sending the newsletter

The program I use to send the newsletters is hosted on the same server that hosts our website. The newsletters are sent from walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. This is the contact address on our website. If you would like to continue to receive these newsletters, please include this address in your "friends list" so that it isn't blocked.

For some reason, some servers block the newsletters no matter what you try and do. I send these in small groups from my normal email. It's not a simple problem. If anyone thinks they might have an idea how to overcome the problem, I'd love to hear from you.

Emails sent to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au are currently automatically forwarded to rrwillis at internode.on.net. If you want to send an email to that address, replace the word "at" with the symbol @. I am trying not to put that address any place where it can be harvested by spam bots.

We don't want to add to the mass of email spam. If you don't want our newsletter, please send us an email and let us know. We'll then delete your name from our newsletter list.

Our email address is walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au.

Note. The program we use to send this newsletter has an automatic delete at the bottom. Clicking that link will delete you from the mailing list on the server but it will not delete you from our main database. My newsletter mailing program will not allow the auto delete to send me an email notifying me that a deletion has been made. If you want to be removed from all further mailings, please send an email to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

If you know someone you think would enjoy this newsletter, please forward it to them. The more people who get it, the more likely it is that I'll be able to run the trips which might interest you.

Best wishes to all.
Russell Willis

Return to top