Willis's Walkabouts Top-Level Menu


Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 92, September 2017 — Burning Issues Continued

The deeper I dig into the issue of burning the north, the more complicated it becomes. Scroll through Burning Issues Continued below and you'll see what I mean.

Feedback request. While I do get some wonderful feedback on these newsletters, it would be a great deal of help if I had more. See News About this Newsletter for how you can help. Thank you.

Restricted content. Articles marked * or ** are on restricted websites Click for more info.

. Willis's Walkabouts logo

In this issue

Major Trip Update

2017 Is Almost Over

Almost over?? We can't run our trips unless we have bookings well in advance. We've only got one trip with space available before Christmas.

Northern Chile: 15 December 2017 - 12 January 2018
Two of our former clients said they'd come before we even had the draft notes. We'll hire a car (or two) and drive to a variety of different locations for day walks and possibly some longer ones.
We will be at high altitude for most of the time so the walks won't be overly long or hard. We will definitely visit the area where the photo was taken.
Guide Russell Willis. have a look at the trip notes, link above, then if you think you might be interested, click here and send us an email.

2018 — Bookings Are Coming In

As of the date of this newsletter, we already had bookings on three trips and a possible small group on a fourth.

Two Special Offers

  1. Kakadu Light: 11-24 February or Kakadu Highlights No. 2: 18 February - 3 March
    I enjoy both and will run whichever gets to three bookings first for as few as three people, no extra charge. The other will be cancelled.
  2. Get in fast and save big dollars. I am now updating the list prices. In some cases, this is the first update in three years or more. Until I've finished, I'll honour the offer on our PDF Trip List, "Anyone booking before a price change goes onto our website will lock in the old price on a trip where we provide the transport and a price halfway between the old and new where we charter it." Based on what I've done so far, that could save you $500 or more.

As for the list prices, please don't forget our very substantial Discount Offers.

Easier Trips

In the Willis's Walkabouts — Where To? section of the last newsletter, I had a section about some of our easier trips. Based on the replies to the questionnaire (which is still open, and waiting for more replies), I don't think I made my point very well.

I think they add something extra to the current program and hope to lead one or two myself next year. If there is any chance that a trip like this might interest you, please click here to go to the questionnaire if you haven't already done so.

Special Charters

Ask and you shall receive. We ran two special trips this year and changed the dates of a third to suit the first people who booked. If none of the available trips fits your dates or where you wish to go, please ask about our charters. We can go almost anywhere in the NT and Kimberley with almost any size group, provided you give us enough notice.

Return to top

Burning Issues Continued

As you will see from the length of this section, this has become somewhat overwhelming. I'll have to continue the discussion next year. While much of what is being done is done in an effort to limit late dry season burns, it is worth noting that most of those late season burns are started by people.

Shortly after doing the last issue, I came across an article in New Scientist, How Aboriginal knowledge can help the world combat wildfires. As I said in the last newsletter, most of the burning which is now going on bears little resemblance to Aboriginal burning patterns before white settlement.

One of the researchers quoted in the article, David Bowman, came on a one week walk I led in Kakadu in early July. He was appalled by what he saw. As he says in the article, people are tempted by simple solutions. Fire is a complex question. There are no simple solutions! Sadly, as the cartoon suggests, most people prefer simple answers, even if those answers are wrong.

Here are a few of David's comments after doing the walk and reading my last newsletter.

Here are some links which show the scientific background.

In 2010, I accompanied one of David Bowman's PhD students, Clay Trauernicht, on a research expedition looking at northern cypress (Callitris intratropica) into a remote area of Kakadu. As I noted at the time, "Cypress may not be a particularly important species in the overall scheme of things, but it's disappearance is an indication of the health of the environment. With small mammals in decline, possibly due to the wrong burning patterns, it may be a good marker." We found a modest number of large trees, lots of small seedlings near the big trees but almost none of a moderate size that might grow to replace the old ones. Cypress has been in a steady decline for the entire time I've been walking in Kakadu. That decline continues both in Kakadu and elsewhere throughout the north.

Not long before he did the walk with me, David Bowman revisited a long term study site in central Arnhem Land. There had been a significant increase in tree death since helicopter burning had begun. The only way he could find some of trees he'd tagged years earlier, was was with a metal detector. The only thing left was ash. A healthy forest was damaged by an aerial burning program that supposedly will store carbon.

This little Callitris cartoon and article sums it up nicely.

A Sign Of Hope?

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy coordinates fire management across two of their own properties and a mix of Aboriginal and pastoral land. I'm happy to agree that they are doing a far better job than is being done in most of the top End and Kimberley, but I still believe it could be done better. Whether or not the money is available to do it better is another question.

Not long after my last newsletter, I received a letter from the North Kimberley Land Conservation District Committee. They were very upset. If you click the link to read it, then you should also click the link to read the reply sent by the friend who gave me a lot of my original information. I also showed the letter to David Bowman who said, "The crux of the problem is that
(a) the managers are doing a bad job explaining what they are doing
(b) the approach taken is not increasing long unburnt habitat and
(c) the reliance on remote sensing as a performance indicator is off base — this is where bushwalkers come in. They are seeing the widespread impacts on the ground. All management intervention needs to be adaptive, we are learning by doing and questioning assumption and practice is healthy part of this process.

There is more, much more. There are proposals for 'carbon farming' in Kakadu. If that goes ahead, it will destroy the park as it has already destroyed large parts of Arnhem Land. No matter what some people say, replacing mature trees and shrubs with grass puts far more CO2 into the air than it removes.

That discussion will have to wait. If nothing else, I hope that I have as many people as possible questioning the assumptions that are destroying large tracts of northern Australia.


A couple of days before I was ready to send this newsletter, I received an email from John Storey, a long term resident of the Kimberley who has long been active in the fight to stop the excessive burning. "I've attached a copy of the Premier's letter to me that I just received yesterday. This is in reply to mine to him back in May. Same old crap fed to him by his departments. I'm preparing a reply now and will send it and copy you by week's end. More going on here. Indigenous 'rangers' still lighting up. Their supervisor had had enough and complained to DPaW ... then lost his job for doing so!"

"This is out of hand here but at least we have now 'drawn' the Minister and Premier in with making falsehoods. We must keep going and get people / clubs to write now ... or we lose the chance ... and our Kimberley."

On 26 September, ABC news ran a story Tornado-like 'fire whirls' 300 metres high tear trees from the ground in Kimberley bushfire. At this time of year, the only thing that can start Kimberley bushfires is people. If John's information is correct, some people are getting paid to light fires like this and others are losing their jobs when they complain. In my mind, it's madness.

Return to top

The End Of The World As We Know It

If North Korea doesn't already have the technology to destroy the USA, they are getting close. They would pay a terrible price, but America would never be the same. Here's a link to an article from The Economist (Three free articles per month). The disaster that could follow from a flash in the sky examines "the huge potential impact on rich countries of a prolonged loss of electricity." Three quotes to give you a taste.

Here's a similar article from the former Chairman of the US House of Representatives. The North Korean EMP Threat. The article mentions a novel, One Second After by Bill Forstchen. If you read the Wikipedia article linked above, you might want to read the book.

Don't have a nuclear weapon? No problem, use one of ours. Why Our Nuclear Weapons Can Be Hacked * explains that "U.S. nuclear forces are vulnerable to cyberattacks that could give enemies control over the weapons. We know this from a harrowing 2010 incident."

Forget the nuclear option, it wouldn't take anything like that. The Economist article notes that "Shooting up transformers at just nine critical substations could bring down America's grid for months, according to an analysis performed in 2013 by the Department of Energy's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.". That would take no more organising than the flight hijackings that produced the 911 chaos in 2001. Maybe ISIS or some similar organisation will get their act together and do something really significant that will affect tens of missions rather than isolated terror incidents that affect relatively few people.

It's not a question of 'if', it's a question of 'when'.

If we don't fix our systems, Mother Nature will find a way. She's already come close. "On March 13th 1989 a surge of energy from the sun, from a 'coronal mass ejection', had a startling impact on Canada. Within 92 seconds, the resulting geomagnetic storm took down Quebec's electricity grid for nine hours. It could have been worse. On July 23rd 2012 particles from a much larger solar ejection blew across the orbital path of Earth, missing it by days. Had it hit America, the resulting geomagnetic storm would have destroyed perhaps a quarter of high-voltage transformers, according to Storm Analysis Consultants in Duluth, Minnesota. Future geomagnetic storms are inevitable."

They don't always miss. The Solar Storm of 1859 caused problems then. If the one in 2012 hadn't missed us, it would have been the greatest disaster in human history.

if you want to learn more, you might enjoy Solar Storms, the threat to planet Earth, a one hour documentary from 2012 which looked at what could happen. We didn't get hit in 2012, but it's inevitable that it will eventually happen.

Return to top

Your Health


Thinking about visiting Southeast Asia? Alarm as 'super malaria' spreads in South East Asia suggests you'd better be prepared.


Two very different stories about staving off dementia. Good news for people who walk a lot. not so good for people who depend too much on GPS.

What to Drink


Back in February, New Scientist ran an article called Plague! How to prepare for the next pandemic. I've split it into three parts as that was much easier than trying to do it as a single document.

It's not just the New Scientist. The New York Times ran a similar story earlier this year,The Real Threat to National Security: Deadly Disease *
"We need to be budgeting to defend against the next pandemic."

Both publications make the same point — money spent now will save a lot more money and lives later. But, until we have a major disaster, I can't see elected politicians taking the needed steps.

While it's not a pandemic, we already have a problem. Fast-mutating flu prompts calls for more immunisations
"More immunisations in preparation for flu season could save lives as the virus continues to mutate making it more difficult to treat, according to Australia's peak medical body.It has been reported as the worst Australian flu season in about 15 years and has claimed the lives of at least 74 people."

Medicine and Money

An interesting selection of articles. Some apply much more to America, but Australia often follows the American example so we need to be aware of the problems.


Three that didn't fit elsewhere

Return to top

Willis's Walkabouts Videos

On 6 September, I posted two new videos in an effort to promote our last Australian trip before Christmas. On 14 September, I added another to promote our South Africa trip.

It's easy to see that the videos were done by an amateur but hopefully they show what it's like. That brings me to .....

We need help!. I made the videos using Windows Movie Maker. It was a struggle. Little things kept going wrong. Those three short amateur videos took me a day and a half.

We have a fair amount of footage. We could use more. We could also use someone who would be willing to put a few (or maybe more than a few) videos together in exchange for a discount or, depending on how much is done, a free trip. If you have video footage from one of our trips that you'd be willing to share and/or if you'd be interested in using our footage to prepare some short videos we could use for promotional purposes, please click here and send us an email.

Return to top

Australia Through American Eyes

Two photo essays

Australia and China

Return to top


Our Prosperity Depends on Protecting Our Planet

A recent issue of Catalyst, a magazine put out by the Union of Concerned Scientists in America had a two page article titled Our Prosperity Depends on Protecting Our Planet. Here are a couple of points, at least one of which might surprise you.

Moving to cleaner energy should be a 'no-brainer'. What does that say about the politicians who oppose such moves. As I said in my last newsletter, are they Idiotic or Corrupt?

Here's another example of politicians wasting your money. The true cost of keeping the Liddell power plant open
"Power companies see coal as a technology of the past, but the government seems unready to accept that wind and solar technologies (already the cheapest option for new capacity in Australia) are the future of Australia's power."
Read the full article and it appears that the government would rather subsidise coal.

Too Late?

Tipping Point?

It's never too late to try, but here's an article that suggests we may already have passed a tipping point.

The Uninhabitable Earth
"Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think."

100% Caused by man? — Perhaps Not 100%

How rain city became smoke city
"We believe there is more to the climate change story than just anthropogenic (read: man-made) causes. This issue of our Guest EVA brings up some intriguing points of which many of us may not be aware. I will leave it to our more scientifically inclined readers to attack several of the climate change-related contentions in this piece. However, what is undeniable is that the earth has gone through dramatic heating and cooling cycles well before the age of human industrialization."
While our actions are hastening the change, the planet has been far warmer in the past.

Return to top

Thoughts On Our Society

A Point To Ponder

Our economy seems to depend on people spending money they don't have to buy things they don't need. How long can that go on?


I think our educational system needs improving. Here are two articles that should give you something to think about.

Democracy and Free Speech

Civil War in America

I know that American society is highly polarised. What I didn't know is that some people are beginning to think that this could lead to a new civil war in America. It's not a widespread view, but the fact that some reasonably rational people can see it as a possibility is more than slightly disturbing.

The article mentions a 'wonderful letter'. I clicked the link and liked it. Some Thoughts and Advice for Our Students and All Students. "Our advice can be distilled to three words: Think for yourself. That's not easy in today's world. Have a read and see what you think.

Aging society

We live in an aging society. Japan shows what it may come to here before too long. The Pilot in the Cockpit? In Japan, He Might Be a Retiree *
"Many retired people in the country have returned to the work force as the population dwindles and jobs go unfilled, including Shigekazu Miyazaki, who is still flying at 65."


Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart

Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart *
This chart captures the rise in inequality better than any other chart that I've seen. It's not as bad in Australia, but that's the direction we seem to be moving in.

Return to top

Technology You Can Use

A short collection of interesting stories, no particular order.

Return to top

Bushwalking Info


A very short section this time. If you have good info you'd like to share, please pass it on so I can include it in a future newsletter.

Return to top

Technology — Changing the World

The End Of Cash

In Urban China, Cash Is Rapidly Becoming Obsolete *
"Across the country's cities, the rapid growth of mobile payments is making cash all but obsolete."

Two things to think about here:
1) Every time you use a card, someone makes a bit of extra money. That adds to your cost in the end.
2) Do you really want the government or some private organisation knowing every single thing you purchase?

Do You Know Who You Are?

She thought she was Irish — until a DNA test opened a 100-year-old mystery **

Solving Old Mysteries

Who Killed the Iceman? Clues Emerge in a Very Cold Case *
"Using a wealth of new scientific information, a seasoned homicide detective has developed a theory in a death 5,300 years ago."

Our Ever More Visual Culture

Snap Makes a Bet on the Cultural Supremacy of the Camera *
"Our rising dependence on cameras is changing our language, and the company behind Snapchat is counting on the eventual dominance of visual culture."

Return to top

Resist The Internet

Two very different stories, both well worth a read.

We Aren't Built to Live in the Moment

We Aren't Built to Live in the Moment *
"What best distinguishes human beings from other animals is our foresight, as scientists are just beginning to recognize." Websites that are designed to suck us in every deeper are doing their best to destroy what makes us human.

Return to top

To Finish

Video Not For Fun

The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima *
Through modeling and mapping technologies, witness from above what happened in Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 6, 1945.

Ending on a Positive Note

Frida: the Mexican rescue dog who has saved more than 52 lives

Return to top

News About This Newsletter

Feedback Request

A bit of feedback as to what I can do to improve the newsletters would be most appreciated. The following short questionnaire should take no more than a few minutes. Thank you.

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 — December? Next year? With trips to Kakadu, South Africa and Chile, I'll be home for less than a month between now and 18 January. I'm not sure when I'll have time for the next one.

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

Return to top