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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 90, April 2017 — The Last Taboo

I think that the most important section is The Last Taboo . But, even if you aren't interested in the main discussion, you might be interested in Personal Reflections which describes a bit of how I got to this point.

In any case, if you read only one thing in this newsletter, I'd suggest A Final Tale at the end of The Last Taboo . You or someone you know will be in a similar situation someday.

The other article I'd particularly like to emphasise is "Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds" in the Democracy section.

There's even an article that could put an extra $25,000 in your pocket, and, for those that knew her, Amelia is back in Australia, performing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival which finishes on 23 April. Catch her if you can.

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In this issue

Major Trip Update

Rain, rain and more rain — it's wonderful! Exceptional rain in Kakadu, the Kimberley, Pilbara and Central Australia means that this will be the best year for bushwalking that we've seen for a long time.

There have been quite a lot of changes since the last newsletter, so read on and see if something here might interest you.


Three trips remain available. All are definite departures.

Special offer. We'll leave the 10% advance purchase discount on the last two trips above open for one week after this newsletter comes out.

June - July

The following trips are already definite departures or need only one more booking to become so.

Save money. Besides our normal discounts, we'll leave the 15%, three month advance purchase discount open for one week after this newsletter comes out on all the trips below.

July - August Onwards

All trips remain available. The following already have bookings.

For a complete list of all our prices, see our regularly updated PDF trip list.

To see all of our current overseas offerings including two new trips to South Africa, go to our Availability and Specials page and scroll down to the overseas section.

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The Last Taboo — A Debate We Have To Have

We're all going to do it someday but talking about death and dying seems to be the last big taboo in our society. Our inability to talk about it leads to an immense amount of unnecessary suffering. This was brought home to me by a New York Times article, First, Sex Ed. Then Death Ed. * It suggests that, "The sooner we start talking about how we die, the better." It's, "the great unmentionable and because we don't talk about it, most of us don't get the kind of death we'd prefer."

That article got me thinking and digging. What Our Cells Teach Us About a 'Natural' Death * explains how "our biology may offer a challenge to the common wisdom about the artificial extension of life."

For those who want to dig a bit deeper, by far the best and most comprehensive of everything I found was an eight part series in The Conversation. The more I read the more outrageous I found it. Hopefully some things have changed for the better since the articles were written. Sadly, I suspect that most things remain the same.

Personal Reflections

This is not the first time I've touched on this subject. I gave it a mention in Grief, Death and a Lost Connection in Newsletter 64. I came close to dying in a car accident a month later as described in The End of Willis's Walkabouts. That included a link to The Accident and its Aftermath, which, I believe, remains one of the best things I've ever written.

The following year, my nephew disappeared, later found murdered in Mexico.

A Final Tale

I recently came back from a trip to Canberra where I visited a friend who was diagnosed with terminal cancer last September. While he is well aware that he is unlikely to make it to the end of this year, his treatment so far has allowed him to continue a decent quality of life. He has read and helped write this section in the hope that it will help someone else facing a similar situation.

He told me that when he was abruptly given the news, he was profoundly shocked and looked inside himself to see what really mattered to him. Unlike many people who go through periods of anger or denial before reaching acceptance of their fate (the well-known Kübler-Ross model of grief), he found fairly quickly that he was able to accept what had happened. He did all the internet searches he could think of to see what the reality was, and for this particular cancer there is a zero survival rate after just a few years. It therefore took him just a matter of hours before he reached the acceptance stage. However, it has been harder for his wife and daughter, for they not only have to go through the denial and acceptance stage, but in the face of a poor prognosis, they have already had to start grieving for his inevitable death not long away.

Some people seem to become more religious when they know death is approaching. My Canberra friend was and remains a confirmed atheist. He feels that having a structured system of values and belief, almost irrespective of what that belief is, has helped him in a situation like this. After having a happy and relatively fulfilled life, he looks at his remaining time (however limited) as an opportunity to leave happy memories for others as well as to enjoy his remaining time as well as he can.

When I mentioned the topic to a friend in the US, he told me the story of his father's similar diagnosis and final two years. My friend's reaction was to spend as much time as he could with his father over the next two years while his brother's reaction was to deny it until the last possible minute. My American friend finished with "I sort of wonder how my own wife and kids will react when my own death is imminent — assuming I am not hit by lightning, but have some way to know what I will die of and when, which of course we often don't. I hope I will be able to follow the same no-nonsense approach when it is me and not my father who is dying, we should all be so lucky. I think what your friend's experience shows is, when you know you are dying you do focus on what is important, and let bullshit things go. (Too bad it takes a death sentence! How hard would it be to learn to do that say, at age 30?"

I went to Canberra because my friend invited me and a number of people to his birthday party. It was a great night. As was a dinner for a smaller group at his sister's house two days later. In our last chat before I returned to Darwin, he told me that some of the happiest times in his life have been since the diagnosis. I found that hard to believe at the time but I think my American friend hit the nail on the head. "When you know you are dying you do focus on what is important, and let bullshit things go."

It's hard, but the world would be a far better place if we all devoted our lives to the things that are truly important.

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Keeping Cool

Despite all the recent stories about power blackouts, no one seems to be talking about one of the causes. We are using immense amounts of electricity to air condition places that don't need to be kept as cool as we're keeping them. Read on and you might save yourself a lot of money.

Unfortunately, energy efficiency standards for new buildings seem to require air con, not the wonderful flow of air that keeps my home liveable.

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Democracy means everyone gets to vote. If you want to understand where we are, where we have come from and where we may be going, these three articles are 'must reads'.

Technocracy, Liberal Democracy and the Division of Our Time
• "The idea that expertise ought to guide our political life is at odds with the principle of national self-determination."
• "By default, the republican system has moved from a relationship between the people and their representatives to one between the people, their representatives and the managers. This process has been underway for a long time, since European states created a permanent civil service to do the bidding of their political masters. And since that time, the civil servants have increasingly managed the system Ė and managed their political masters."
• "This question is at the heart of many of our divisions, and is being discussed daily even when people donít realize they are discussing it. Technocrats are struggling with how to perfect the world. Citizens are struggling with how not to lose control over their lives. It is not just that they live different lives. It is that they live in different moral universes."

Nationalism and Liberal Democracy
• "Nationalism — however distorted it might become — is the root of liberal democracy, not only historically, but also morally. The two concepts are intellectually inseparable."
• "A random collection of people without a core set of shared values cannot form a coherent regime, because nothing would hold the regime together or prevent internal chaos."
• "Contemporary tension in liberal democracy is not with the nation, but rather between democracy and liberalism. If people have a right to self-determination, then they have the right to elect leaders with values they prefer or share. The problem is that some people will object to leaders being selected who violate the principles of liberalism."

Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds" New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.
• "Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves," Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an 'intellectualist' point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social 'interactionist' perspective.
• "Humans, they point out, aren't randomly credulous. Presented with someone else's argument, we're quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we're blind about are our own."
• "We've been relying on one another's expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and othersí begins."
• "One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor," they write, is that there's "no sharp boundary between one person's ideas and knowledge" and "those of other members" of the group.
• "This borderlessness, or, if you prefer, confusion, is also crucial to what we consider progress. As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance; if everyone had insisted on, say, mastering the principles of metalworking before picking up a knife, the Bronze Age wouldn't have amounted to much. When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering."

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I made my first trip to South Africa in 1999. The walks were too good to miss so I led my first Walkabouts trip there in 2001. Including Madagascar, technically not part of Africa, we've averaged at least one trip per year ever since. It's been fascinating to see what's changed — and what hasn't. Here are a few stories I found interesting.

Bushwalking in South Africa

Willis's Walkabouts in Southern Africa

We currently have two South Africa and one Madagascar trip in our 2017 program. The South Africa ones are new since the last newsletter.

To see all of our current overseas offerings like Japan and New Caledonia, go to our Availability and Specials page and scroll down to the overseas section.

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This is a time of change in Europe. The European economy is so large that what happens there can't help but affect the rest of the world. It doesn't help when other powers have an interest in further destabilisation. If you click only one link in this section, make it the first one.

On A Lighter Note

Paris Turns to Flower-Growing Toilet to Fight Public Urination *
"Paris has a new weapon against what the French call 'les pipis sauvages' or 'wild peeing': a sleek and eco-friendly public toilet. Befitting the country of Matisse, the urinal looks more like a modernist flower box than a receptacle for human waste."

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Our Former Guides — Where Are They Now

Tommo's passing gave me pause to reflect on some of the other great guides who have worked for Willis's Walkabouts over the years. Six are no longer in the land of the living. The ones below are. If you did a trip with us in the earlier years, you might know one or more of them. They are the people who helped make the business what it is today.

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The Australian Monsoon

What is the Australian Monsoon?
I've been battling misconceptions about the Australian monsoon and northern wet season for years. Click the link and you might come to understand it a bit better.

The monsoon often brings cyclones. Tracking the storm: the science behind Tropical Cyclone Debbie gives a good, short explanation of how cyclones form and how the Met Bureau tracks them.

The Warming Arctic

There is no where in the world where global warming is having more obvi0us effects than in the Arctic. Here are two stories highlighting some of what's happening.


Changing rainfall patterns are going to affect us all. Here's an example of what's happening elsewhere. Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis *
"Climate change is threatening to push a crowded capital toward a breaking point."
Think it doesn't matter to you? Mexico's economy is now the ninth largest in the world, greater than Australia's. What happens there will have flow on effects around the world.

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Aboriginal Australia

Aboriginal DNA study reveals 50,000-year story of sacred ties to land
"Analysis of 100 hair samples sheds light on population movement around Australia and depth of links to regions.

The full article is worth a read but here are some highlights. "Aboriginal communities have remained in discrete geographical regions. 'This is unlike people anywhere else in the world and provides compelling support for the remarkable Aboriginal cultural connection to country,'"

"During that period of time, with massive climate changes and massive environmental shifts, you might therefore have expected people to respond by moving all over the place."

"Clearly the environment did change significantly but nevertheless they were able to survive in one area with a fixed set of resources for up to 50,000 years. Nowhere else in world have humans been able to demonstrate an ability to do that. We donít have a great record of living in balance with anything."

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Flying is far safer than driving your own car. Unfortunately, things may be changing.

Other News

Google comes to the rescue for cheap flights
It's worth a look — seems to have some useful tools like save & get notified of price changes.

The best and worst airports in the world
Three Australian airports "were in the South Pacific's Top Five Worst Airports for overall experience." Personally, I don't mind two of them. Maybe that says how lucky we are in comparison to some other places.

Flying to the US or UK? What Travelers Should Know About New Restrictions on Devices *
Who is affected by the flight restriction, and what should you do?

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Reading and Children

Children prefer to read books on paper rather than screens
"Research shows that providing children with eReading devices can actually inhibit their reading."

How dogs could make children better readers
Bit of a surprise here. Read the article and see how.

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Thoughts On Our Society

Men Without Work

While the following is based on the American experience, it's not just in America. I can see hints of something similar developing in Australia. If we're not careful, we could be paying a high price for generations to come.

American society is breaking down. "Some 10 million American men of prime working age (25 to 54) who have simply dropped out of the workforce, and the great majority of them have not only dropped out of the workforce, they have also dropped out from any commitments or responsibilities to society." Here are two articles and a link to a book to help you get your head around this.

The Ultimate Dropout

Into the woods: how one man survived alone in the wilderness for 27 years
"At the age of 20, Christopher Knight parked his car on a remote trail in Maine and walked away with only the most basic supplies. He had no plan. His chief motivation was to avoid contact with people. This is his story."

Another Example of American Overkill

Defend Border Privacy!
• "U.S. politicians want to force every single traveller at the airport to hand over their digital devices, unlock them, and provide their social media passwords.
• That's our most intimate moments, from personal messages to loved ones to sensitive financial information and private photos. If we don't speak up now, this will become the norm not just in the U.S., but all over the world.
• The page has a link that allows you to express your opinion. Personally, I suspect that this would have a major negative impact on international tourism to the US.

Fight back! Crossing the Border? Hereís How to Safeguard Your Data From Searches. *

Political Correctness Gone Mad

No one succeeds 100% of the time. In the real world, we are faced with failure and people who disagree with us. Many American universities are doing their students no favours. Some are fighting back.

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Your Money

Airbnb hosts beware — it's not just Centrelink using robo-debt systems
"State revenue offices are using data matching to identify people who earn income from Airbnb, then sending notices that they may be liable for land tax, even though this remains a legal grey area."

You could be shelling out at least $140 a year you don't have to pay
Quite possibly a bit more. If you have more than one super fund, you're cheating yourself. Quotes below are from a Choice submission to a parliamentary enquiry.
"With our latest research showing consumers are wasting a small fortune paying for duplicate insurance policies. It's time we had protections backed by the regulator to stop the erosion of consumer retirement funds."
"Removing duplicate accounts could increase superannuation balances at retirement by around $25,000 and retirement incomes by up to $1,600 per year." Some of the things hidden in the fine print might surprise you, especially if you have more than one life insurance policy.

Hands off our cash!
Outrage as government hints it may abolish $100 notes.

Check your credit score: why 1200 is a magic number
The article includes a link to a tool you can use to check your own credit rating.

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Photos, Videos & Just for Fun

And finally, Penguins — BBC. Film maker and writer Terry Jones discovers a colony of penguins, which are unlike any other penguins in the world.

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News About This Newsletter

Restricted websites. 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. The Washington Post also has a limit but I'm not sure what the current limit is so I've marked Washington Post articles with a double red asterisk (**).

Next Newsletter — May? June?

As always, I've already got a few things ready. Hopefully, I can get a bit of feedback about some of the things in this newsletter to include in the next one. As I've often said, 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. (MailChimp Free only allows 2000. The commercial version costs too much for an extra 200 people.) 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.
I hope you enjoy reading the newsletter as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Russell Willis

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