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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 79, June 2015 — Something Special

Six days for $300. The specials are back — easier than anything else in our program. If these trips don't get the interest this time, I'll have to leave that walking niche unoccupied until some other tour operator takes it up.

The TPP will affect you, your children, grandchildren and generations to come. It will allow private corporations to sue the government for things like requiring specific labels on foods or drugs. If you have even the slightest desire to maintain some of Australia's freedoms, make sure you read the updated Trans Pacific Partnership section below.

A question. This is the second newsletter where I've set the links to open in a new window rather than requiring you to click the back button to get back to the newsletter after clicking a link. If you have a preference, please send us an email and let us know which you prefer.

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.

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In this issue

The Lucky Country?

I've found some interesting bits to follow on from my 'Lucky country?' segment in the last newsletter. Every single one of the following is worth reading. Some make me despair. Others make me realise how lucky we really are. They all should give you something to think about.

Bureaucracy Gone Mad

A friend of mine recently decided to go back to driving a taxi. He grew up in Australian & New Zealand, speaks only English, had driven a taxi in Darwin before. In spite of all that, he still had to take a course to get a certificate saying he can speak English as a second language. If that's not a waste of your tax dollars and mine, I don't know what is.

There is an answer. If any political party actually called for the legislative reform suggested in Cleaning out the attic they would get my first preference in any election. The article refers to America, but it's a debate that Australia needs just as much as the US. Here's an excerpt, italics are mine.

"Streamline the federal bureaucracy. Government has become much like the neighbor who has hoarded every magazine and odd knick-knack for 50 years. The attic and every room are stuffed with items no one would miss. The size of the US code has multiplied by over 18 times in 65 years. There are more than 1 million restrictive regulations." I'd be willing to wager it's just as bad in Australia.

"Enough already. It's time to clean out the attic. The president, with some flexibility, should require each agency to reduce the number of regulations under its purview by 20%, at the rate of 5% a year. And then Congress should pass a sunset law for the remaining regulations, requiring them to be reviewed at some point in order to be maintained."

Property Bubble and Private Debt

Why the housing credit fantasy canít last forever. The title says it all.

From The Economist, Global house prices. On some measures, Australia comes in as the worst or nearly so. How long can this go on? We now have a generation or two which may never be able to afford to own their own home.

The government hates public debt, but is asking private citizens to borrow heavily at just the wrong time. Are you old enough to remember what interest rates were like back in the 1970s when inflation took off. With our current levels of debt, if something like that were to happen again, the crash would be worse than anything since the Great Depression.

Personal Freedom

"There has been a cold calculation that voters' sensitivities about their individual liberties pale into irrelevance compared to their fears of terrorist attack." Itchy trigger fingers: human rights president in the gun tells how former Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone, in her Fairfax newspaper column, "gave the government both barrels."

"You can imagine my profound disappointment, bordering on despair, when I see someone on 'my team' thinking it is OK for a minister alone to take away citizenís rights — indeed take away citizenship — in the blink of an eye," she wrote. "No appeal, no judicial process, just a ministerial decision. What were they thinking?" The draft legislation has changed since this was written but it may still leave something to be desired.

One of the reasons that the government believes that personal liberties don't matter is the general lack of criticism in the press. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald, The sound of silence stifles our freedom expresses well some concerns about the loss of critical thought in the public arena.

Labelling Laws

Our labelling laws mean that you don't always get what you think you are getting.

Just for fun ....

If the Simpsons were an average Aussie family....

What's right in Australia

The Dazzle of the Southern Sky. * Our constellations may be upside down, but our stars shine brighter.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see just how good you have it. I grew up in America. A Visiting Americanís View of Australia explains some of the reasons why I could never return to live there.

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Bushwalking is Dying

That's what Google says and there are some things about which Google cannot lie. Is 'bushwalking' dying? Our brave new world of adventure is an expansion of an article which appeared in Wild #146 earlier this year. The article also tells how 'tramping' is faring better in New Zealand than 'bushwalking' is in Australia. I find trends like this somewhat sad.

Bushwalking Is Good For You

How bushwalking can knock the years off! explains how bushwalking keeps you healthy.

If you think about what time you go to bed and get up on a bushwalk, the first article in the Mind and Body section below gives another reason why bushwalking is good for your health.

Bushwalking Nights

Bring On the Dark * tells how, "Night was once the only thing that put the human agenda on hold." Now, a wilderness bushwalk is one of the few places where you can actually experience true night.

Sitting around a campfire at night as we do on most of our trips brings a feeling that you can't get in any other way. But, if you'd like to take a bit of the mystique out of the fire, have a look at New View of Flame * where a new imaging technique captures the turbulence of hot gases when a match is lit.

Bushwalking Old and New

Old. Wild reviews the book, "Ways of the Bushwalker".

New. The dawn of the always-connected adventurer. It's not all that long ago that when you went bush, you were truly on your own. Now it's possible to stay connected all the time. We have gained some safety at the cost of something that was once an important part of the experience.

Online Bushwalking Resource

There is a Bushwalking e-magazine which has been coming out on a regular basis for the past two years. The current edition has a lot about bushwalking in the NT. If you are happy to stick to marked trails, there are lots you can do on your own. If you'd like to get further into the wild, I hope you'll consider one of our trips.

They also have a forum page which has to be one of the best free resources about bushwalking in Australia. Click on the link and scroll down to see the different topics. There should be something there of interest to every bushwalker in Australia.

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Our Australian Trips


We've had more charters this year than in the past five years put together. Some have been opened to others. Some have been for exclusive groups. Most of the scheduled May-June trips which have run have had good bookings. Now there are only a few left. We can't take any more bookings for any trip beginning before August after 12:00 noon on 26 June.

Bookings Close This Week


Only four trips departing before 20 September are still available.

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The Most Important Animal in the World

While we depend on various bacteria for our survival, I never realised just how much the human race depends on a single animal. If I had thought about it, I'd never have figured out just which animal it was. In a country like Australia, we'd probably get by without too much difficulty but for much of the world, its disappearance would cause major problems.

Charles Darwin spent a good deal of time and money studying this animal. If it were to disappear, "Pandemics and riots could ensue, unleashing a crisis of enormous proportions."

An article in New Scientist explains it all. Don't dismiss it out of hand when you see what animal it is. Read the full four pages and you'll see how important it is in so many ways.

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Our Minds and Bodies


Six ways sleeping more will make you healthier
"It's not only about feeling more energetic. Not sleeping enough is not only bad for your health, itís downright dangerous, shows new research."


New Scientist ran an interesting article which contained some very simple suggestions about how to limit your calorie intake without really trying.

US bans trans fats. "Artificial trans fat will be banned from the U.S. food supply over the next three years under a ruling by regulators that the products pose health risks that contribute to heart disease Ö Food companies will be able to petition the FDA to gain approval of specific uses of partially hydrogenated oils if they have data proving the use isn't harmful."
Apparently we don't use anywhere near as much trans fat here in Australia so the government is not considering a similar ban. One downside of such a ban may be that an increased use of palm oil will lead to increased forest clearing.
One minor point that bugs me is that this article, like so many others, talks about good and bad cholesterol. Cholesterol is cholesterol, a single specific chemical compound. The so-called 'bad cholesterol" is low-density lipoprotein (LDL). 'Good cholesterol' is high-density lipoprotein. Why not call them what they are?

Your Mind

For an Aging Brain, Looking for Ways to Keep Memory Sharp *

Found: the missing part of brain's 'internal compass'.

Shaking Hands

We are unaware of it, but we are programmed to do it when we shake hands. An article in a recent New Scientist will tell you something you never knew.


Our Cats, Ourselves *
"Domestication happened to humans, too. We've evolved a lot like pets."

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Overseas trips

Our next two overseas trips to Madagascar and Chilean Patagonia are both fully booked. We will, however, take a wait list.

Something New in 2016

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Almost all of our clients have to fly to get to our Australian trips. 100% have to fly to get to the overseas ones. Here are a few interesting stories about flying.


If you fly to Darwin or Alice Springs, you are probably paying more than you'd be paying if the government hadn't vetoed an interesting proposal. Are cheap airfares worth the hidden cost? explains a proposal that would have allowed some foreign airlines on some northern routes. What airline would stop in a place like Darwin en route to somewhere in southern Australia if they can't possibly replace the passengers who get off?

Economy, Business or Something Else

Hate economy bit can't afford business? A budget airline might be a surprising choice.

If you are going to Europe, it might be worth checking what a flight to Bangkok combined with Norwegian Air premium economy would cost. I flew Norwegian premium economy between New York and Sweden last year. It wasn't quite business class but it was pretty good and came with a good baggage allowance — which I needed as I was running a tour in Sweden. It cost about the same as any other normal economy fare I could find. And, it was a lot more comfortable.

Airline Fuel

With the price of oil well down on what it was a year ago, replacing it as a fuel might still be some way off, but there could well be an alternative. Jet Fuel by the Acre * explains how, "Advances in molecular genetics and DNA sequencing technology have allowed a San Diego start-up to domesticate jatropha, a plant with seeds that produce high-quality oil that can be refined into low-carbon biofuel."

Pre-flight Announcement

This flight attendant has another career ahead. She speaks quickly, but it's worth a careful listen, and there are subtitles....well she is American! Pre-Flight Announcement

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Trans Pacific Partnership — Yet More

If the TPP gets passed, you can expect to see a lot more things like these. Already we have forfeited a portion of our sovereignty to foreign corporations.

As I said in my last newsletter, those pushing for the TPP are counting on public apathy and ignorance to get it accepted. For what little it's worth, I've written to both my senators and my MP expressing my concerns. I'm one small voice. If thousands did the the same, we might yet stop it. Or, if we can't do that, we might manage to get it modified to make it less objectionable.

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Technology and You

Job Loss

As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up *
"Concern about technology — the printing press, the steam engine or the computer — supplanting humans is not new. But this time may be different." I suspect we're going to have the same problems here in Australia.

Home Brew Your Own Drugs

Gene breakthrough sparks 'home-brewed morphine' fears
"Anyone with basic skills could use such a yeast to churn out morphine, codeine and drugs using a simple home-brew beer kit." The war on drugs is lost. The sooner we recognise that, the better off we'll be.

Cosmic Rays

The title says it all, Cosmic ray blitz: Space invaders that fry electronics.
"On 7 October 2008, a Qantas plane en route to Perth plunged more than 300 metres before recovering. Crew and passengers were flung around and dozens suffered broken bones, concussion or other injuries.Faulty readings from an airspeed and attitude sensor had put the plane into a steep dive, a fault subsequently blamed on a "rare type of internal or external error. No one has been able to rule out a cosmic ray strike as being responsible."

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Our Society

Men and Women at Work

The stories here are American, but I think they all have parallels in Australia.

Blue-Collar vs White-Collar

Your Waitress, Your Professor *
Why do we draw a line between blue-collar and white-collar work? Some blue-collar jobs pay better than some white-collar ones. Better still, those workers don't have to take the job home with them.

The Plasticene

Some believe that we have entered a new geological era, the anthropocene. An article in New Scientist suggests that our era might be better called the plasticene.

Makers and Breakers

Makers and Breakers *explains how "The other great geopolitical struggle in the world today is happening on the Internet."

A Story That Deserves To Be Told

To live today is to self-promote or perish. Social media tugs the private into the public sphere with an almost irresistible force. Be followed, be friended — or be forgotten. An Old Man in Prague * tells the story of a man who saved hundreds of lives "and for decades said nothing. The deed speaks for itself."

What Price For Our Society?

The child in the basement, a parable for our times *
I found this particularly thought provoking.

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If you've been 'tramping' in New Zealand, you have almost certainly encountered kea. The NZ Federation of Mountain Clubs bulletin had an interesting article on kea late last year. Click the link then turn the pages to see the full article.


Click on the colour links on the Top End Native Plant Society home page to see a variety of Top End flowers arranged by colour and shape.


Boabs spread by Aboriginals explains how the distribution of boabs in Australia is almost certainly due to Aboriginal people. Thanks Jim, Martin and everyone else who sent me the link. Much appreciated.

Peacock Spiders

I saw some incredible photos of these tiny Australian spiders in New Scientist #3013. The videos of their courtship displays are absolutely amazing. Even if you dislike spiders, please don't pass judgment until you click the link.

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Free Money for All

Should the government give money away for free? It sounds ridiculous but Switzerland is considering a proposal to give every adult a tax free payment every year. If something like that replaces all of our other welfare programs, it might even save us money. It's worth a thought, but only if it replaces the labyrinth of existing programs.

Whose Money Is It?

In my February newsletter, I talked about the War on Savers and wondered if the Australian government could legally confiscate private gold holdings as the US did in the 1930s. Yes, that law is still on the books. (Thanks to Fred Schmidt for that one.)

If you work for someone else, you have to have super. But what if you were suddenly told that your super wasn't really yours, that your fund had to keep money in an account where the federal government gradually took it away? It's already happened in Switzerland. "It is undoubtedly a huge red flag when in one of the countries considered to be a member of the 'highest economic freedom in the world' club, commercial banks are suddenly refusing their customers access to their cash. This money doesn't belong to the banks, and it doesn't belong to the central bank either."

If it can happen in Switzerland, why can't the same thing happen here?

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Australia's North

White Paper

The federal government recently released a White Paper on developing Australia's north. I haven't had time to read it all. I hope I'm wrong but I have a nasty suspicion that some of their ideas wouldn't be good for the region. I'll have more to say in a future newsletter. If you have any thoughts on the paper, please let me know.

Pilbara Geology

On our Pilbara trips, we often see some interesting stone circles. One of our clients, Tony Ashton came up with a theory. He says, "The 'story' I developed (but with next to no evidence) is that an asteroid impact, somewhere else in the world, 2 billion years ago when that particular few centimetres of sediment was being laid down deposited catalytic elements that then allowed (either immediately but probably much later when the layer was buried and de-watered) a reaction-diffusion process similar to the well known Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction but on a much slower time-scale.

Walks in Darwin

Few locals, let alone visitors, are aware of the interesting walks along Rapid Creek. If you stay at one of the airport hotels, you might enjoy a walk along one of Darwin's best kept secrets.

Cyclone Tracy

Last Christmas was the 40th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy. If you are at all curious about what it was like for those who experienced it, have a look at the Cyclone Tracy share your story page.

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Photos & Videos

Mt Everest Journey. Click start the climb, then keep an eye on the elevation on the left side of your computer screen, then move the mouse at the end to see everything. It's almost like being there and there's a 360 degree view from the top!

Hong Kong as you've never seen it.

Amazing animal sculpture art.

From ABC Catalyst, The Universe
"Grab your popcorn and settle back to watch a movie about the Universe — this extraordinary super computer simulation called the Illustris, models a huge chunk of the universe: a cube 350 million light years across, and home to tens of thousands of galaxies. Illlustris reveals how galaxies form, what happens when unsuspecting matter falls into black holes, and much more since the Big Bang."

Finally, weird, wonderful or simply amusing. I really don't know how to describe these photos, but I enjoyed them. It may take a while to download. Be patient, it's worth it. Scroll down to see the lot.

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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

While I now send most of the newsletters using MailChimp, I still send about 200 newsletters using a program which is hosted on the same server that hosts our website. In both cases, the newsletters are sent from walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. This is the contact address on our website. If you would like to continue to receive these newsletters, please include this address in your "friends list" so that it isn't blocked.

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. Both MailChimp and the other program we use to send some of these newsletters have 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. One of the programs will not allow the auto delete to send me an email notifying me that a deletion has been made. If you want to be sure that you are removed from all further mailings, please send an email to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

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

Best wishes to all.
Russell Willis

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