Exploring Paradise on Earth: A Journey to Australia
Australia, a vast country with only 23 million inhabitants. Richard is going to be our guide as we visit the Buccaneer Islands, a region that is as inaccessible as it is hostile. In this harsh environment, there are men at work gathering pearl oysters. In the very heart of Australia, Dave and his family live on the edge of the Simpson Desert.
Living conditions may be hard, but Dave has given his children the biggest sandbox in the world. Further north in Arnhem Land, on the land of their ancestors, Simon, Russel and Otto live their lives according to the Aboriginal traditions. A life with no constraints except those imposed by nature. Respect the land, you'll survive. You'll come back safely.
The Buccaneer Archipelago is made up of countless islands and islets stretched out over 1,000 kilometers. They are practically uninhabited. There are the rare navigators that pass through, but apart from them, the only other people that venture into this liquid labyrinth are the pearl farmers. This is a Grumman Mallard. These are our transport vehicles around this wilderness area. We're in a place where there is no access.
We are three and a half hours from Darwin by Mallard, or two and a half days by sea from Darwin. Without these transporters, we can't achieve our wonderful productivity. It's essential for us. This is where we met Richard McLean. He came to Western Australia a good 20 years ago.
He started out as a diver on a pearling lugger, a physically demanding job that he did for more than ten years. It's beautiful. It's kind of peaceful at the same time too.
If you take the time to stop and relax and listen to it. Every time you come here in different light or different weather, or different time of year, there's always something different. Something different that catches your eye, catches your imagination. I find it very inspiring.
Probably not many other places in the world that's so uninhabited and untouched. We're very lucky. We'll make it back for breakfast. Richard could never bring himself to leave this region.
Now he manages all the pearl farms for Paspaley, one of the world's leading pearl companies. The story of these pearl oysters begins off the coast, 300 kilometers south of the Buccaneer Islands. The divers first have to gather the wild oysters that will allow them to cultivate pearls.
Tony Cooke is getting ready for another dive. Twenty meters down the water is 19 degrees Celsius. The visibility is mediocre, but no matter, Tony has to dive.
Our fishing season starts around April and runs for anywhere up to two and a half to three months. We take a team of divers, up to 48. Paspaley will take down the coast on up to half a dozen different mother ships.
We take the divers, we call them drift divers, drift diving, we tow them along the bottom, where their sole purpose of being down there is picking up the wild shell. During the day, the divers will spend up to eight hours a day underwater using our device tables to ensure that we have no decompression illness. Not only do the divers have to find the oysters, but they also have to keep a sharp eye out for the many dangers. Sharks and deadly jellyfish, for example. Tony earns a good living with this work, but it's quite risky.
A few years ago, while he was working for another company, Tony witnessed a tragic event that deeply affected him. There is some big fish out here. We have had attacks in the past, probably, as I remember in my time, there's probably have been about half a dozen attacks and a fatality in '93 which was a mate of mine who got taken. The water was dirty, poor vis about less than a metre and his dive buddy came up complaining of no air, got the surface and the hose had been bitten in half. He pulled the hose in with nothing on the end.
About a week later, we found his body in a shark that we caught. It was tragic for the whole industry and everyone involved It's always in the back of your head, especially in dirty water, when you work in zero visibility, It's like anything you've been doing for so long, you just take it as part of your job. Once the wild oysters have been gathered, they're brought on board the impressive boat lab, equipped with a sort of operating room. About 50 people live and work on board, 25 of them, highly trained surgical technicians.
This is a gold-lipped Pinctada maxima, more commonly known as the South Sea Pearl Oyster. As oysters go, it's huge, and produces a brilliant nacre with a satin sheath. To produce pearls, they first have to gather wild oysters, then seed them in a top secret operation that takes place behind this partition. Each oyster has to be delicately pried open in order to implant a nucleus, a small pellet of special limestone.
The foreign body will remain inside for two years while the oyster coats it with nacre. Once the seeding is done, the whole crew is mobilized to put the oysters back into their natural habitat. Only now they're held in baskets so they don't drift off in the current. For the first few months after the operation, the oysters are closely monitored. Every day, Tony and the other divers have to keep a watchful eye on their precious oysters.
Witley Scarlet has been an underwater laborer. The work itself is strenuous. It's like pushing a wheelbarrow underwater, imagine that.
We're in 20 meters of water most of the time, which is three atmospheres of pressure. You've got those extra pressures on your body while you're working. You're lifting and carrying things in unnatural ways. You do get worn out quite quickly. Like a nurse at a patient's bedside, Tony has to make sure that the gold-lipped Pinctada maxima are recovering from their operation.
It's tedious work alone at the bottom of the sea. One has to be in excellent physical shape to be able to operate in such conditions. For Tony, the love of adventure and the rush of adrenaline are his life's blood. No, you're not seeing things. Tony is really toying with a sea snake, but he has to be careful for one bite from this snake could be deadly. Luckily, Tony's wetsuit is thick enough to protect him from the lethal fangs.
It's just a passion for diving and being on the ocean. Yeah, came out this way surfing and fishing and jumping on one of the pearl boats to start with when I was a young fellow and just pursued it. Been with it for nearly 20 years.
I've never had a bad day. We're about to leave the operation's grounds that we're at, at Sandy Point. Then head up into the Buccaneer Archipelago, into Talbot Bay. It's going to be about a 16 hour run for us.
We should be there probably tomorrow afternoon. To get to Talbot Bay, our boat has to go north 300 kilometers, then round Cape Leveque, where it ventures into the labyrinth of the Buccaneer Islands. It's this thousands of islands, inlets, channels, great tides. It's uninhabited and it's just a fantastic area.
The early morning light and the late afternoon light is when you see it at its best. It can look very harsh in the midday sun because it is, it's a harsh environment. There's a lot of local knowledge required to safely navigate through these areas because they're poorly charted, but it's a beautiful area too. Its beauty and its ruggedness, I think.
In this maze of land and sea, we see a few scattered installations, these are the pearl oyster beds. After recovering from their operation, the oysters spend close to two years here. It's a breathtaking spot and so isolated and remote that there's no pollution, perfect for the oysters. We're at Talbot Bay in the centre or the heartland of the archipelago now. This is our Talbot Bay Pearl farm, it's a floating pearl farm, 13 people live here.
Look what's in here, have a look at this. It's an aquarium, it's fantastic. Imagine fishing to top the day off. Let's see how lucky we can be today.
For a lot of people, this is the reason they come to work here, so they can fish. It's more than a sport. It's a way of life for a lot of people, fishing.
Oh, yeah. -Oh, yeah. Nice one. -There's a fish. Hey, here's another one. Look, there's a croc coming in, look at him. Very unusual for a croc to come in this close.
He can jump clean into the boat without batting an eyelid. If you've ever gone on a jumping croc cruise, like out of Darwin, it gives you one thing. You realize how high and how fast these crocks can jump. That's why everyone gets a bit sucked in about crocodiles because they see them looking docile like that one, floating on the top of the water, but when he goes.
You can see how fast he just comes in from out of nowhere? They get faster from their normal depth. Oh, it's a cod. You got the biggest one of the day, Steve. Well, it's a cod, it's a good cod too.
He's got a big croc three meters or so. Get off there. Just get off the edge of the boat. -He'll chomp you. There's a particular curiosity in this maze of channels that Richard wants to show us. The Australians call this phenomenon horizontal waterfalls.
Yes, there's a lot of water trying to get in or out of these gaps, so it causes these eddies, whirlpools. We're very lucky at the moment because it's almost slack water, but still there's this much turbulence, so you can imagine what it's like at flood tide. It's extremely dangerous. We wouldn't be coming through here in a flood tide. Twenty-four, 26 feet is the difference between high and low tide and that amount of water coming through these tiny crevices and rock gorges and that tremendous amount of energy.
Huge amount of water being moved. All that turbulence and water exchange also increases the amount of oxygen in the water for food and life for our pearl shell and for all other fish species. In Vansittart Bay a little further north, the pearl harvest has just gotten underway.
For Richard and all his co-workers, this is a period of feverish activity. Now, we'll finally get to see the fruit of all this effort. They say it's never the same thing twice. This shell now, is probably seven years old. It was 3 to 5 when it was fished on the 80 Mile Beach, there's another two years grow out and it's been cleaned more than 50 times in that two year period, carefully by our farm workers.
It was delivered to the ship last night, opened this morning, and there we have a beautiful pearl. Let's go upstairs and see what's come out of the harvest today. To produce these little shimmering pearls, a whole battery of techniques and equipment has been mobilized, but without the natural nursery of the Buccaneer Islands, would these little gems attain this superb quality? That's a beautiful pearl. You can hardly see the shoulders of this pearl, you look through them.
We're very pleased. This is going to be a good harvest. To see such promise, such nice color, nice clean pearls, nice shapes.
This is exciting. Richard has to take his precious cargo to Darwin. We'll take advantage of the sea plane to leave this magical spot, but Richard will soon be back here in this territory so removed from civilization. Mt Dare, are you on channel? Yeah, receiving, Dave.
Yeah, I've just picked up those boys. We're on our way back for a beer. Copy that. See you in about 20. We're on our way back to Mt Dare, which is at the top end of South Australia. We really are in the centre of Australia, and on the western edge of the Simpson Desert.
This is just a sample of the great roads that we get to pass through. We're very isolated. Five hundred K from Alice Springs, 1300 kilometers from Adelaide. Ayers Rock is a day's drive away, so we're sort of a long way from everywhere. We just get used to hundreds of kilometers when you drive. Mt Dare Station, an unlikely settlement plopped down right on the edge of the Simpson Desert.
It's one of those places where life makes a dogged stand. All around for 500 kilometers in any direction, there's nothing but sand and rocks. It looks like a scene out of Mad Max, but a lot less violent and a lot more laid back. Here in the middle of nowhere, but in the dead centre of Australia is where Dave has chosen to make his home along with his wife and children. He came here seven years ago, and took over a half abandoned service station.
Mt Dare Station is the only post for the brave souls venturing into the vast, uninhabited and uninhabitable desert where the temperature often gets up to 50 degrees Celsius. People never stay here long. They're just passing through. Cooking breakfast one minute and then you fixing cars the next. Just then getting ready with the post, and some days can be flat out in here.
Dave is the only person you can count on if you get lost in this hostile environment. This spot does have the one natural resource that made it possible for Dave to settle here, a source of water. Everything else has to be brought in from the outside, and that means far away.
This is all the supplies we need to look after all the tourists that come through. At this time of year, it's very busy. So as you can see, we have quite a load on at the moment.
It takes us about seven hours in the truck. It's usually two nights in town. Then we get back here, unload it. Rush off and go and do another job.
You do have to plan well ahead, and if you forget something, well, it's weeks before you get it. Our vegetable supplier forgot our lettuces. No lettuces, that's it. A round trip to the nearest store is a 1000 kilometre expedition, half of it on God awful tracks.
We don't really have a local trade. There are some cattle properties not too far away from here, but they're 70 kilometers nonetheless. That's over an hour's drive, so we don't often see the neighbors and it's sometimes a special occasion when you do see them. As for social life, aside from the passing travelers and the hired hand, Dave, his wife and children have only each other to talk to, and the kids can hardly invite friends over for their birthday parties, but the family has found a way of life that suits them just fine. Here we go.
My wife, Melisa, and my two little angels. We've got the eldest one, Charlotte and the little girl, Crystalline. They love it. We've just come back from Alice Springs, where we've been to the Alice Springs Show. We've got the bubble machine and Showbags and all sorts of stuff. Just enrolled Charlotte, she's three and a half for next year.
She does kindergarten. It'll be correspondence through Alice Springs and the year after that, then it'll be over the Internet School of the Year. They can see their teacher via the camera on the Internet and they can do music, they can do dancing, painting. Anything they can learn is on the Internet and they've got a 99.9% attendance rate. It's the biggest classroom in Australia. Just closing your eyes.
It's throughout outback Queensland Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia, so it is just huge. Charlotte's class, which has about 50 pupils, is the biggest in the world. It extends over a territory almost the size of a continent. We're going out to the airfield to go and meet the plane. The plane brings the mail in every Wednesday and they take one of these all our outgoing mail, and we collect our incoming mail.
My name's Rich, and I fly the mail plane for Chartair based out of Alice Springs. It involves delivering mail to remote homesteads, communities around the centre of Australia. This company has the longest mail run in the world.
There are mail runs at three hours flying in a straight line to get to the first stop. Morning. Good. I've been preoccupied and forgot to bring you a drink out, but you're quite welcome to come over to the pub and grab one if you want one. There you go. -It's just the one?
Yeah, just the one, probably two kilos. Yeah, no damage at all. Everyone looks forward to mail day and we'll sit around the table and divvy out all of the mail and work out who's been ordering the most things. We have probably nine mail runs on our books that go as far as Western Australia, South Australia and into northern Queensland, and it can take you all day. A good eight and a half, nine hours of flying to complete a mail run, and that's a pretty big day.
These postmen of the desert are the spiritual heirs of the early pioneering pilots. In spite of the long hours, the solitude and the difficult conditions, they still nourish the dreams of many an Australian youth. It's a remote area of flying, you're constantly over featureless terrain. It's pretty hard navigating out here. We rely on a GPS unit to get us from point A to point B.
In the event that you do have an engine problem, we generally just pick a good place to put it down and we've got supplies on board. to last us at least three or four days. Water and food. We've got radios on board to attract the rescue crew if we need to. Quite fond of the the red dirt, the Simpson Desert, the Tanami Desert.
It's quite comforting. It's very interesting. We're going to put the big wheels on, mate. We're going to go to the desert for a few days, so I'm going to slot these on. This car's purpose is primarily to be a recovery vehicle. It goes out to do tows, pull people out of bogs, repairs, anything that needs doing around here.
I'll take my little girl away with me this time. Yeah, are you going to stay in the swag? Yes. All right. -Bye. See you. -Bye-bye, love you.
See you in a few days, bye. Ready for big trip? The kids really enjoy growing up out here. I just think it's a great environment for them.
Charlotte loves it. She loves really loves camping, sleeping in the swag and stuff, looking out at the stars through the open swag. Four hours on the road and the landscape is still the same. Dave doesn't get tired of it.
He chose to live here in the company of these huge sand dunes. Just being able to live and work in country like this, is just special. You don't want to be battling your way through traffic. I'd rather battle my way through sand dunes. Hey, are we going to camp just here, Charlotte? This will be a good place for the camping. Out you get.
There you go. Take the camping stuff out now. We're at Pony Bore, which is 65 kilometers to the east of Dalhousie Springs, and as the name depicts Pony Bore, it is a manmade bore that has been turned into a wetland. They were looking for oil and all that came out of the ground was near boiling water, so they said, "Don't need this," and off they went, leaving it flowing at so many thousands of liters a second.
It was just amazing the water was coming out. It would have filled these swales here before it was capped and restricted in its flow to just keep it to a moderate flow, to maintain the wildlife that had become dependent on it. We're flying in an aeroplane. To raise kids out here has been a great privilege. Just this morning, Charlotte gets out of bed and says, "Come on, Dad, let's go and find some camels." How many other kids are going to get out of bed and say that in the morning? This is Australia's largest sandpit.
She plays out here like any other kid plays in their backyard. I just think the scenery around here is just a little bit more special than the average backyard. Come with, Daddy. My soles are sizzling, Dad. Kiss.
I'm playing in a big sandpit. Big sandpit, isn't it? Can you see how they happen, all these little waves? Yeah. -They're pretty, aren't they? That's the wind that makes those. The wind makes one little wave like this. All right, and then eventually, this little wave will be as big as the sand dune. All of these big sand dunes started off as little waves.
All the stars are gone. Where did the stars gone? They've gone in the sky. Oh, okay, where's the moon? The moon is still over there, is it? What's that? Oh, right. Is that the circle of fire? It's really hot. Hey, look, a spider.
He's looking for his mom. He can't find her anywhere. I'm nearly touching him. He might hurt.
Spider, just keep going to your mom. When you're out in the Simpson Desert, you've got 300 kilometers of sand dunes. No habitation for 500 kilometers between Mt Dare and Birdsville. The vastness that is out here is just indescribable. It's really something that you have to see to feel I think. It's God's own country.
It's the colours around here, the beautiful rich reds are just fabulous. I love it. Six and a half years, I wouldn't be here if I didn't like it. It's hard work, no doubt. Yes, it's a great environment.
It's peaceful, I just think it's great. Arnhem Land is in the north of Australia. This vast preserved territory is a world of its own, like a state within a state. The entire territory belongs to the Aboriginal Australians and any Australians who are not Aborigines have to get a permit to travel in this special land.
In this breathtaking landscape, humanity's oldest civilization lives in harmony with the environment. For more than 40,000 years, the same people have been living on the same land here. At present, there are no more than 15,000 Aborigines living on a territory of close to 100,000 square kilometers.
My people's ancestors walked this country for thousands of years. They left an old track here. This is tough country.
You have to have a lot of knowledge to survive in this country. My father taught me how to live in this country and he learned from my grandfather. The knowledge has been passed on for this country. In the heart of this peaceful landscape, we meet Otto Bulmania. He's a clan chief. According to tradition, each clan lives on its own territory and moves around according to the seasons.
Before, when Otto's father or grandfather would roam with the family, they could easily cover more than 400 kilometers on foot on their clan's territory. I'm the traditional landowner of this country here, as you can see. Yeah, this is all my country.
My great grandfather and my father used to live in this country and do hunting and gathering around this area here. Now, my father and grandfather are gone. I'm the traditional owner. I have to teach my kids to look after this country. We have plenty of billabongs, rivers. We go out and catch fish.
Feeding our family. Sometimes we go up on the escarpment here and do a kangaroo fire drive and we catch kangaroo. Sometimes we go out and do shopping in town, like basic food that we get and flour, tea, sugar, and we come back and stay in the bush.
Otto spends a lot of time roaming out in the bush, hunting or passing the traditional law onto the younger members of his family. Here he's out with Russel, one of his nephews. In the 1920s, white farmers introduced water buffalo to northern Australia, and they have adapted very well. Too well, in fact.
They've thrived so well that they've become quite harmful to the environment. Their hooves do a lot of damage to this fragile land, so their population has to be strictly limited. Stay back, stay back. This bull is really injured, and it's really dangerous. It's on a scrub here somewhere, but you have to be careful. There's no hunting season for the Aborigines.
They hunt to live all year round according to their needs. We eat a lot of bushmeat. That's how we grew up here, and that's how we get buffalo meat and kangaroo, and bush turkey and all that. That's the buffalo here, so I've got him all ready. I think I might have a look, what sort of meat I need and I'll get it out. As soon as I get it out, I think that's our bush food.
Sometimes we go out to the billabong. We had a lot of lilies in the billabong, but now it's all gone from the pig and buffalo. So we had to get rid of them some of the time. Keep the numbers down. Keep them out of the good place.
Living off the land also means protecting and taking care of it. It's a family affair, and each member has to do their part. Russel and his little brother, Simon, have gone out into the bush. They've been camping here for five days now. They call this a walkabout, a period of roaming without any specific destination. The land will always take my breath away when I'm out in bush.
It's really strong culture. The way we sit around the campfire a lot. Yeah, I like it a lot here, and it's really beautiful. The way you can hear that water and it's really quiet.
Nice and quiet. From where I'm sitting down here, I go to bed and if I'm looking at the sky, I can see all the stars, a million stars all over. It's beautiful. A walkabout can last a few days or a few weeks.
It depends on how the spirit moves them. They take their time to camp, hunt and simply enjoy the landscapes. This is the normal life of the Aborigines.
Watch out for crocodiles in this water, or sharks. Some fish, stingrays, and lots of shark in this water. This is my mother country.
I used to live here with my grandfather, but he passed away a long time ago. Maybe one year back or something. I used to see him spear a kangaroo in his country. He used to spear wallaby with little wallaby. He used to bring back that little wallaby to me, and I raised him.
Now a lot of people don't like that. They don't have the land. Just good life for us in this place. We like this place. Bushfires raging out of control can be devastating for these parched lands. For ages, the ancestors of Russel and Otto have been using fire to fight fire, to avoid the extreme ravages it can cause.
It's fire season. We're going to burn the whole Arnhem Land. Everyone's lighting fires now in every outstation, and people living in hunting areas, they all burn all that stuff. It's fire season.
For some areas, we're living for long, two or three years full load, we get big problems like big fires. You can see big black scorch marks right on the top. For this sort of fire, it's a cool fire. When we burn like this, a few days time, all the reshoots, grass will come back and then wallaby will come back, big buffalo will come back, wild cattle. We can spot them in a good place. It's very old system, it's been from the very beginning since our ancestors' time.
They've been making fires so our ancestors could warm themselves and feeding from fire, so it's really important. Fire gives us everything. Russel's family appears out of the smoke. No GPS, no compass. The Aborigines can drive for hours way out in the bush and find exactly what they're looking for.
They've dropped in to spend the evening with Russel, which means getting dinner for ten extra people, but that doesn't seem to worry Russel. While Russel goes off hunting, Otto makes ready for the evening's festivities. This is woolly bark.
I can hear that it's a bit hollow here, There must be a good didge, this one. The didgeridoo is the musical instrument of Arnhem Land. Everyone knows how to play it around here. This instrument plays a vital role in the Aboriginal culture.
They use it for their ceremonies, as well as for an evening of just singing around the campfire. To make a good didgeridoo, the recipe is quite simple. You just have to carefully select the tree trunk that's been perfectly hollowed out by termites. I got a lot of family just came up for a visit, so I think I need to get a lot of meat a little bit and take it back and we'll cook them around. I think we'll sit around the campfire.
Saturday night out. It's a family night to enjoy eating and have fun and talk to each other. I think we're going to have a big feed and wash our hands and I think go to bed. Hunting and gathering are two cornerstones of the Aboriginal culture, a way to stay in touch with the land. Our land it's all about culture too, like ceremonies and stuff.
We don't want to damage any of our land because we like living like this and we like collecting all the bush food. You can feel everything that's found in the earth. In the Aborigine tradition, these are called songlines. Litanies chanted in a language no one can understand, but they are essential. The Aborigines say that it's the language of animals. One songline will describe the course of a river and all the wildlife that lives there.
Another will retrace the limits of a specific territory and the animals that inhabit it. Each one of these songs is an element of the Aborigines history, and describes a piece of territory. The songlines are in fact the proof of ownership of a family clan, something like an official land deed. The totality of these songlines form a sort of land registry plan. This is my grandfather's wet season camping area.
During floodwater, they used to come and camp here for black waterloo, for hunting kangaroo. There's no car tracks. Pretty rough country.
It's in the middle of nowhere. You can find this sort of painting around, it's everywhere. All these oral and pictorial traditions go back to the dawn of time.
They're a way of transmitting information, and even though they're not written, they're just as precise. For Otto and all the Aboriginal Australians, the history of their people is made up of a succession of personal anecdotes. If I'm walking in another man's country, I don't tell their story because I don't speak their language. New people always sit quiet when entering other men's property. Always sit quiet, because you don't know what's the story behind you.
If you're living in your country, you can tell them big mob story. You can tell them let's go hunt deer, or let's have ceremony up here. The whole family, my country, makes us talk.
It's there, alive, it's watching us. If we're make one mistake, we get sick, because old people's spirits are watching us. If we can't do it proper way by respecting the land, we get sick, falling from a rock or a big ironwood tree goes through our feet.
There's a lot of dangerous parts. Respect the land, you'll survive. You'll come back safely. The Aboriginal people of Australia have managed to survive much longer than any other civilization on Earth. The key to such longevity surely lies in the great respect that they show towards their land and the creatures that live there.