Best wishes to all for Christmas and the New Year.
Having just had a meeting with some of the Aboriginal traditional owners of parts of the East Kimberley and adjoining part of the NT, I thought I ought to give an update. Christmas? If you read nothing else in this newsletter, read The Secret of Happiness. That's my Christmas message.
Browse this at your leisure. I've crammed so many interesting things into this newsletter that I recommend dipping in and out over a few days — or even weeks. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed preparing it.
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.
In this issue
Only four trips remain available. All are definite departures.
I've had people asking about the Kimberley Coast Explorer: 10 March - 20 April for months. Unfortunately it took me until last week to finalise the new itinerary and transport. The trip notes have been completely revised and illustrated. This is the longest, most adventurous trip we offer. We hope to offer it again in 2014, but can't be sure that will be possible.
Price drop. I'm still trying to get my head around this one. While the new transport arrangements meant that I had to raise the price of each of the four separate sections, I was able to drop the price for the full trip and for every possible combination of two or three consecutive sections.
Special offer. Because it took me so long to finalise the trip, I'm extending the 20% advance purchase discount until Christmas, then 15% to 10 January at which time it will either become a definite departure or will be cancelled.
If you are interested in either Scandinavia or South Africa, please let me know so I can keep you informed as plans develop. Those who get in early can have a say in how the trips are organised.
I've been thinking about organising a trip to Brazil for some years. Watching the recent Michael Palin TV series on Brazil inspired me to think a bit more. It probably won't happen in 2013, but it will happen.
The Pantanal is a must. I'm not sure what else to include. If you have any ideas of things that I should include in a trip to Brazil, please let me know. But please remember, Brazil is bigger than Australia so I can't include everything in a single trip. Watch this newsletter for updates.
Australian's love their beaches but is it time to start thinking about how we use them? The following stories are all from the US, but they are all relevant here as well.
The oceans have been rising for the past century. They will continue to rise for the next one. The only questions are how far and how fast. I grew up on the edge of New York. The recent Hurricane Sandy gave a good hint as to what may come.
Many places in Australia are built in similarly low lying areas. Have we started doing anything to plan for the rising sea?
I was unable to easily find out the answers to the questions I've raised above. I'd like to think that our tax dollars weren't being spent subsidising people who made silly choices. If you know the answers or can point me in the right direction to find them, I'd much appreciate hearing from you.
Christmas is a time when many people pay more attention to food than they usually do so it seems a good time to mention several interesting items I've come across about food.
When you buy 'organic' or 'free range" or whatever, do you know what you are getting. As to 'free range' recently "The Australian Egg Corporation wanted the definition to apply for up to 20,000 hens per hectare." The ACCC rejected that definition last month but the debate shows that big business is trying to cash in.
A friend of mine has a small organic farm near Mildura. He produces some great stuff but can he and people like him around the world can't produce enough to feed 7 billion people? If you are at all interested in organic food, the following are worth a read.
If you are interested in buying Australian organic, you should look for the labels of the 7 Approved Certifying Organizations on the AQIS website.
If you have a good look at the labels when you go to the supermarket, you'll find that many of the things come from overseas. When I look for organic, especially processed things, in the supermarket, they are often from overseas. Organic may be a plus but all that transport has to be a minus. Why is it that our farmers can compete internationally with bulk items, but not with smaller crops like most of the things that end up as frozen veg?
The trend to import more food in Australia is increasing rapidly. Take canned tomatoes for example. My friend says that "all but one line in our Supermarket is imported (Italy!. The local product is dearer, hence many shoppers choose the cheaper imported lines." Personally, I think that says more about European farm subsidies and absurdly cheap transport as it does about the ability of Australian farmers.
* More Choice, and More Confusion, in Quest for Healthy Eating suggests that "Even as a recent study questions some of the basis for considering organic food superior, the emphasis is shifting toward a more general quest for locally grown and natural."
On my recent trip to the US, I was in a smallish New York suburban town and came across a street where one block had been closed to traffic for a farmer's market. People had brought in their own produce (or things they'd got in bulk from others in the area, along with home made foods of a variety of types. The prices were similar to those in the supermarkets, sometimes cheaper.
Here in Darwin, I've got a great local market that runs once a week. Most of the produce is local, but some things that don't grow well in the tropics come from interstate. Lots of the local things are unavailable in the big supermarkets. Most of the other things are similar in price.
If you are interested in buying local and Farmers' Markets, the Australian Farmers' Markets Directory lists markets in most states. It's not complete (the NT doesn't get a mention) but it's a good place to start.
With so many people flying at Christmas, it's time to ask * Beyond Mile-High Grub: Can Airline Food Be Tasty?. There are some very good reasons why even the best airline food can never be as good as what you can get on the ground.
I recently flew to Kununurra to talk to some of the local Aboriginal traditional owners of Keep river and the Carr Boyds. The people I spoke to all seemed happy for me to continue to run the trips I've been doing for many years. The Carr Boyd will go back into the program. Keep requires approval not only from the traditional owners but from NT Parks. Theoretically that shouldn't be a problem so I'll put it back into the program. The trips affected in 2013 will be the Carr Boyd Explorer plus Kimberley Highlights Nos. 1 & 2.
I recently reapplied for all my trips on Jawoyn Land. The Jawoyn Association considered my request at their last Board meeting and have asked me to come and talk to them in January. The trips affected are the Aboriginal Art Special, the Jawoyn Explorer and the second section of Kakadu Highlights Nos. 2, 4 and 7. Until then, I can't take bookings on any of those trips.
In Central Australia our Watarrka trip and the Watarrka section of our Finke-Watarrka trip are fine. I have twice been asked to come and speak to the Finke Gorge Board of Management but their dates overlapped when I was out bush so it didn't work. Until something can be organised, I can't be sure I can run either the Finke Gorge or the Finke section of the Finke-Watarrka trip. I have not yet heard back about my West Macdonnells trip but, given that most of section one is on the Larapinta Trail, I should be able to get permission for that with no more than minor modifications. Section two is more problematic.
As mentioned in the last newsletter,I hope to be able to offer a trip to Pungalina a property belonging to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. I haven't been able to work out any details yet. More in a future newsletter.
I've now updated most of the prices for 2013. The latest draft of our 2013 program includes information as to which trips have not yet been updated. While I've had to raise the price of almost all the trips, there were three exceptions because of changed transport:
Kimberley Coast Explorer: 10 March - 20 April
Drysdale River No. 1: 2-16 June and
Drysdale River No. 2: 16-29 June.
The following trips already have bookings.
On one recent morning, I got an email from someone in Hobart informing me that at that moment, Hobart was the warmest capital city in Australia. It didn't last but it does show just how variable our weather can be now and what is may be in the future.
We know that the weather is becoming ever more variable and extreme.
We know that changing climate will affect our food supplies.
* The Farming Forecast Calls for Change explains why "New approaches are desperately needed so that all the world’s farmers can keep pace with the changing weather."
There are many things we don't know, one of the most important of which is how changing cloud cover will affect our changing climate.* The Enduring Cloudiness in Climate and Coastal Forecasts talks about the limits of current models and uncertainty about clouds. It contains good links to a variety of free (not NY Times) pages which go into more detail.
Many countries, including Australia, have a carbon tax. The Wikipedia Carbon Tax page has as good a summary as I've seen of existing carbon taxes. While the US doesn't have such a tax, on 1 January * California will become the first state to charge industries across the economy for the greenhouse gases they emit. As California is by far the largest state in population, this is quite significant.
Geoengineering has been trialed on a small scale. * An environmental entrepreneur scattered 100 tons of iron dust in the Pacific Ocean this summer without any academic or government oversight, startling researchers and regulators. If governments won't do enough, others may.
Scientists are doing ever more studies about the effects of the changing climate on the environment. * Tatoosh Island off the coast of Washington State, has seen
a decline across species and could prove to be a bellwether for oceanic change globally. The study there has been going on for about 40 years so the changes can't be attributed to annual fluctuations.
The article is accompanied by a short * slide show.
The recent Doha Climate Change Conference accomplished almost nothing. As a whole, national governments are doing very little.
In the US, * Solar panels have dropped in price by 80 percent in the past five years and can provide electricity at a cost that is at or below the current retail cost of grid power in 20 states." the article goes on to explain how existing legislation makes it incredibly difficult to install solar power in the US. Australia is held up as a good example but while Australia has an estimated 1.74GW of installed photovoltaic (PV) power, we could be doing a lot more. (I can't help but wonder if prices have dropped as much here as in America. With NT electricity prices scheduled to go up by 30% next year, we ought to be doing a lot more.
In my last newsletter, I noted that Your TV Might Kill You. It's more than your TV — it could be your job. "As more research finds health hazards in sitting for prolonged periods, more manufacturers are offering desks that let workers stand, or even walk, while toiling at the keyboard." * Taking a Stand for Office Ergonomics gives the story. Well worth thinking about if you spend a lot of time sitting.
* Rethinking Sleep. "It's not the quantity of sleep that restores and refreshes, but the quality."
What you eat is linked to the likelihood that you will develop diabetes and diabetes increases the risk of dementia.
* This 2,000-Year-Old Wonder Drug substantially reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, helps prevent cancer and assists in the relief of pain. But it's cheap and not patentable so drug companies have no interest in promoting it.
* I Was Misinformed was written by a single, 60+ year old woman in New York. I suspect some of her observations apply equally in Australia.
In my last newsletter, I recommended a book called The Black Swan. I got a nice comment back. Thomas Gengenbach wrote, "as always I really enjoyed reading your Newsletter (although not quite as much as going on one of your trips of course:-)
Following your recommendation I'm reading now "The Black Swan", a thoroughly enjoyable book, particularly for me as a scientist. This is indeed a book that EVERYONE needs to read (but only a few will do so); thanks for the recommendation (I also borrowed Taleb's earlier book "Fooled By Randomness"
Andrew who took us on the Watarrka trip in July recommended "Hell West and Crooked" by Tom Cole and that turned out to be a great read as well. Gave me a much better appreciation of the Kimberleys and the N.T.
It took me a while to find a reasonably priced Australian source for the Tom Cole book but the link above will get you there. It should also be in most Australian libraries. You can get more info about this book and two others that Tom Cole wrote at Camping Australia website.
On my recent trip to Kununurra, I came across a book Kimberley History the proceedings of a seminar held at the University of WA in 2010. I couldn't resist and bought it. I haven't finished it, but I've enjoyed what I've read so far. If you are particularly interested in the Kimberley, you might even want to consider joining the Kimberley Society. Annual membership costs $25 and gets you a discounts on their publications — you save $14.95 in the case of the Kimberley History book.
When people ask me about good books about the Aboriginal art of Kakadu and Arnhem Land, I always recommend Journey in Time> by George Chaloupka. It's by far the best book of its kind. I had intended to put a good link to a review or other detailed information about the book here, but I can't find one. After the better part of an hour using two different search engines, I gave up. I must have looked at 50 different web pages but I couldn't find anything like what I was looking for. If anyone has a good web link, I'd much appreciate the information.
JB books had the book for sale for $45, the lowest price I found. You'll have to scroll down their page to find it. If you want to order it, you'll probably have to try their 'contact us' button in the top menu.
The Australian printed an excellent obituary for George Chaloupka when he passed away early last year.
Mike Donaldson is a geologist who has spent years walking the Kimberley and documenting its art. Earlier this year, just after the release of the first of three volumes on Kimberley tock art, he was interviewed on ABC radio. The link comes with a short article as well as the radio piece.
His books aren't cheap, but if you order them from his own Wildrocks website, you can save a substantial amount compared to what I've seen them offered for elsewhere.
I've heard good things about them but haven't seen any of them yet. If anyone who reads this newsletter has one or more and would like to comment, please email me what you think for possible inclusion in another newsletter.
In my last two newsletters, I had a few things to say about education. I keep finding more.
The international comparison I referred to in my last newsletter was for high school students. Australia doesn't do anywhere near as well at primary levels. The ABC recently ran a story Aussie schools flatline in international education tests. "The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study has revealed that a quarter of Australia's year 4 students failed to meet the minimum standard in reading for their age. Australia ranked 27th out of 48 countries in reading, with its mean score similar to that recorded by New Zealand, Poland and Lithuania."
The Canberra Times bragged that the ACT bucks trend as Australian education results plummet. The NT, not surprisingly, came last.
Australia was last among the English speaking countries. You can get more detailed information at Highlights from TIMSS & PIRLS 2011 from Australia’s perspective.
Here are a few quotes from a University of Melbourne web page which refer to the high school study mentioned in the last newsletter.
The last two statements above are particularly interesting. if we are spending more but achieving less, something is seriously wrong with our education system. On the other hand, Norway, which is referred to as an example of a country doing something right, actually scored worse than Australia on the year 4 test mentioned at the beginning of this section.
You can see the full report at The need to improve Australian education.
* When 'Grading' Is Degrading tells us that, "So far, education "reform" has given us little but re-segregation and the same dismal scores in math and science."
* Learning Curve: No Longer Just a Human Trait tells us that, "Scientists are reporting advances in deep learning, an artificial intelligence technology that can recognize patterns." Maybe the 'Hubots' in the SBS series Real Humans aren't as far away as we might think.
Lazarus Ford, the only one of our Aboriginal guides to have done multiple trips, passed away this month from pancreatic failure. He was only 34. In keeping with Aboriginal custom, I have not included his photo here. He was the third of our former guides to have died this year.
Another guide, Bruce Swain, said "I did two bush trips with Lazarus. He was a great guy to be out bush with and I enjoyed his company on both occasions and his sharing his knowledge of the bush and his sense of humour was greatly appreciated by the clients."
If any of you who walked with Lazarus have comments or memories you would like to share with his family, please email them to me and I'll pass them on.
Here's a collection of tech stories I found interesting. They tell us what we can expect in the not too distant future. If you have children, I particularly recommend the first one.
It's happening in America. If it's not already happening in Australia, the only reason is that no one has yet thought to bother. it can and will happen here.
Two newsletters back, I had a section on drone aircraft Most of those stories were about America. China is joining in. * Growth in China’s Drone Program Called 'Alarming' explains a bit of what's going on. It won't be long before drones are widely available to individuals as well as governments.
Long before Christmas became a celebration of all things commercial, it was purely a Christian religious celebration. Recent research has thrown up an intriguing thought about Jesus, the man.
* A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus' Wife. A Harvard historian of early Christianity said the papyrus, written in Coptic in the fourth century, contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...' "
* Coptic Scholars Doubt and Hail a Reference to Jesus' Wife explains that "A historian's finding of a fragment of ancient Coptic text in which Jesus is said to utter the words "my wife" has drawn strong reaction from Christian scholars."
Gospel of Jesus' Wife' Faces Authenticity Tests gives an update to the earlier stories. It's still a matter of great debate.
The Harvard Divinity School page describing the papyrus is the most comprehensive summary.
Christmas is a time for family and friends. When a friend sent me a link to a piece called The Secret of Happiness, I had a look. Having had a look, I thought it would be an appropriate way to end this newsletter.
The whole thing, link above, is worth a read, but if you don't have the time for that, the paragraph below sums it up.
"Happiness is found in the day to day small things. A good cup of coffee. A good conversation. A job well done. A sunny day. A rainy day. Finding the beauty around you by being awake and observant. A comfortable bed. The breeze on your skin. Realising that everything does not have to be more than it already is. A lot of things are good just the way they are. We don't need to add to them to 'make them even better'. The list of little things to be happy about in a day is endless. Again as I often discuss, we can train our brains to think differently if we discipline them consistently. If we CHOOSE to look for all the little things that make us happy hour by hour, then we will end up happy at the end of the day. If we do this every day, we will end up happy at the end of the week. Do this every week; you gain a year of happiness. Do this every year; you gain a life time of happiness."
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.
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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, to you all!!