In the Wild (1992) s01e19 Episode Script

Northwest Queensland A Matter of Course

It's hard to tell but this could be anything.
Late night, arriving here and making camp - the thing I'm burning is a bit of Australian history.
That log is a palm log.
These things I'm camped under are Livistona palms, a direct link with the past.
There's a scientific theory that at one time, South Africa, South America, Australia and Antarctica were all joined together, and this great landmass was called Gondwanaland.
And then the continents drifted apart and the fauna and particularly the flora that lived there then remained in each continent.
Most of them were wiped out by various pressures - evolutionary changes, climatic changes and things like that.
But in very sheltered places in Australia we find this palm, Livistona.
It's a very interesting place.
Coming here is one of those dreams that I guess everybody has, somewhere.
When I was a boy, young man, I had a book on Australian animals.
It was called 'Furred Animals of Australia'.
And there was one thing that fascinated me - it was called the Lawn Hill water rat.
I've still got that book.
It's dated now, and modern scientists don't recognise the existence of the Lawn Hill water rat.
But I'm curious to see - is there such an animal and if there is, is it different? Well, I'm camped where they said they found it in the first place, so tomorrow morning we'll go out and see what we can find.
(BIRDS CHIRP AND CALL) This is the very best time of the day to find out what's in an area.
You get up just at first light and the birds all call - it's a territorial call, it's not really a song of gladness for getting through the night.
It's a territorial call.
You walk around and there's fresh tracks, signs, droppings, there's all the various bits and pieces from Excuse me.
I'm getting involved in my breakfast at the same time as I'm trying to tell you about this.
There's everything happening during the night, the sign is all there and you can read it and it gives you a whole lot of information.
It's just like opening a new chapter in a book.
And then, of course, there's the river itself.
Now, you don't have tracks in the river but you do have fish.
When you're in this sort of country, always carry a fishing line.
Mine's usually carried in my hat.
I'm not using it now.
Inside the band, I just carry enough spare line plus a few hooks so if I unexpectedly come on some water, I can get me a fish.
The art of fishing in this country is just a little different to boat fishing or anything like that.
You find the darkest, gloomiest place - like these pandanus - where you can hide from the fish.
You pick one with a fruit that drops off, like that one.
And you just flick it out in the water and the cunning old bream, you know - they're really cunning fellows - they lurk along and think, "Ah, something's dropped out," rush up and grab.
It's almost getting too late now, the sun's just rising, but There.
Come on.
(LAUGHS) Another tortoise.
That's the problem with these places - not only the bream like the fruit, the tortoises like 'em too.
Well, back you go.
Try again.
He's only a young fellow.
Superb, isn't he? A most unexpected bird here.
Miles from the sea and yet there's Mum just over there.
A white-bellied sea eagle.
Beautiful bird.
One of the largest predators that we have in this country.
Normally they're found anywhere out at sea, on islands, islets, rocky stacks, hunting fish.
But where you get a big permanent water, like this one, then the sea eagles will move in and, for some reason or other, find a good place to live and live here.
Up here he probably lives mostly on catfish and long toms, rifle fish, things that come up to the surface that he can catch quite easily.
She probably laid three, possibly four eggs this season.
And when they hatched out, probably two didn't hatch out, or maybe one, and the young birds gradually died off.
That fellow's the survivor.
And Mum and Dad will be working flat out Oh, there she goes.
She got frightened now.
Oh, what a glorious flight.
Great flap-flap-flap, and then the beautiful glide.
See, she's all wing, just a huge wingspan, little short tail.
That's the characteristic of the sea eagle when it's in flight - that huge wingspan and that little short tail.
Let's have a look at the bottom of the nest, on the ground underneath, where the debris is because that's where it gets really exciting.
This is the sort of thing I'm talking about.
That's obvious.
The meat's been picked clean from the freshwater tortoise, a little boofhead.
These are not quite so obvious.
They're still partly joined together with tissue, which tells me that a shag has been eaten.
This is the least obvious of all.
A little ball of feathers.
When you feel it, you can feel little bits of bone in it.
That's the pellet that the sea eagle throws up.
When the young bird plucks all the main feathers of the carcass out, throws it away, then it swallows the gobbets of meat and the bones and then rejects, throws up, a pellet.
And that's all that's left of the pellet.
On Barrow Island, this same species hunts across the island.
It kills and eats big land mammals like rock wallabies and hare wallabies.
But here they just seem to eat the aquatic life, the things that live in the river.
The river itself is a multiple environment, from these aerated zones of rapids caused by the build-up of lime, to the high cliffs - sort of apartment houses for birds - and the cool waters and deep gorges and big fish and crocodiles, and always the variety of vegetation.
To the trained eye, there are other things.
Pandanus leaves marking the old flood levels.
Undermined trees, drowned by the changing river conditions.
And this strange formation on the bank.
When you look at it closely, it's full of aquatic organisms like mussels.
Obviously, there's been some major cataclysm here.
And the river has been ruined.
All of this is an enormous story in stone of what happened to this river.
All of this tumbled debris, this apparent coagulated mass of stuff is a testament of the past, and not very far distant past.
Even the most untrained eye can see that that is wood, and cast around it is this solid block of very hard material.
And these are the way fossils are made.
These are all done very recently.
This water is so full of lime and other minerals that the moment it gets shallow, it deposits, it builds up around the tree trunks.
And in here you can see things like well, there's the root of a pandanus, there's a leaf over there.
What's happened here This is one of the clues to this particular area.
Somewhere up behind that range, due to earth movement or just natural erosion where the watersheds were very shallow, somehow this river got beheaded.
It changed its course, it's gone out around the back of the hills.
And this, which was once flowing water perhaps that high above my head as a matter of course, is suddenly down to nothing, it's dried up, and this is the remnants.
That was one of the catastrophes that happened here.
The second one is this great tumbled devastation.
When the big cyclones come through here, they not only destroy cities, they destroy nature, they wipe it out.
And it's a recycling, it's a rebuilding of nutrients.
And the third disaster - fire.
All of those areas were burnt out.
The things that survived the loss of the water and the cyclone were finally driven out by the fire.
Now, throw in on top of that cattle and pigs and things like that and you've got the complete disaster situation again.
But it's not the only disaster area.
What are the problems of changed water levels upstream? (BOAT ENGINE RUMBLES) All through this gorge is this gruff, gritty Words fail me, almost.
It's a texture, that's the only way I can describe it.
Because there is no way of describing what it is.
It's really the old lime encrustation of the original water level, right up there.
Up at the back, that's where the old pandanus that were on water level used to grow, growing at water level.
They're dead, they're finished.
And look down here.
Right on water level, the young stuff is beginning to re-establish the riverine, the waterline habitat.
In time to come, the survivors will penetrate the cracks in the rock and they'll become the new waterline.
And so a great covering arch of paperbarks and, to a lesser degree, pandanus will come over.
And until this happens, the life that normally lives on the river can't exist because it's that particular riverine habitat, that water edge habitat, which makes it possible for many of the things that normally live here to persist here.
This whole area is an island, an isolated escarpment surrounded by a vast plain.
And that plain is totally utilised by cattle and wild pigs, white man's invaders of this whole system.
The ranges themselves offer a sanctuary, an island area for the original wildlife.
But even these are threatened by the relentless pressures of man's introduced species and even by man himself, in the case of the wild turkey.
Birds are survivors in this ruined area, particularly ones like the bowerbird that travel up to the rocks and around the range and eat fruits, berries, seeds, insects.
They're omnivorous, they manage very well.
Incidentally, this bower is literally that - it's a playground, it's not a nest.
Many people think it is.
When you look at the size of some of the things that come in, really tremendous.
Without seeing the bird, I know it's a great bowerbird because the material is white or silver or these little round pebbles.
Different bowerbirds have different structures and different tastes.
The great bowerbird has this sort of choice.
There's his special treasure chest.
Those things are his extra-special toys that he keeps.
I don't know what I'm talking about it for.
The simple thing to do here is to get out and set up a hide.
And when you do that, you can see all sorts of lovely things happen.
Once the hide is set up, the bird usually spends a little time checking to make sure there's no danger.
Once satisfied, he starts to rearrange his treasure trove.
(SQUAWKS) Hmm, that's right.
Something out of place.
That stick.
Ah, that's better.
Male birds use areas like this for courtship and display dancing.
They display at any other bowerbird.
If it's another male, he'll be scared off.
(LAUGHS) But if it happens to be a female, that's different.
Prime survivors from the original destruction are insects, stick insects and the like, that can move to the tops of trees and bushes or breed quickly.
Cockroaches are distasteful and so are rarely eaten by other animals.
Spiders are poisonous and eat insects, so they have a food supply.
And the ubiquitous ant - wherever you go in Australia, you find ants.
Some even build sheds for scale-insect food.
And things that eat ants, like lizards.
When a river gets denuded, like this one, mostly it's very steep banks.
Occasionally you get these flat plains - it's a run-off area from another creek.
You find lovely animals living here.
There's one now.
Look at this old fellow sunning himself here.
Ooh, aren't I brave? Completely harmless, fat old file snake.
Beautiful fellow.
He gets his name from that magnificent scaling, that very, very rough effect, just like the teeth on a file.
Has a very special purpose, quite apart from protection - it lets the water creep up through his skin, and that way he keeps his body wet and supple.
These are a true water snake, non-venomous - fish-eaters and things like that.
Beautifully coloured.
And, most important, he's got this very elaborate jaw structure.
A little, tiny, short head with a great big jaw that is completely dislocated - like many snakes - in the lower area.
And that opens right up and the huge hooking back teeth catch a fish, up to 2 pound, and he can swallow it.
They really enjoy life in this country.
And it doesn't matter to him about the fact that the river's ruined.
As long as there's fish, as long as there's birds and food and things like that, he's able to survive.
There you go, sport.
Come on! He's so sluggish, he doesn't care very much about people.
Father always told me not to go shoving my hands down hollow logs - anything might bite me.
This time it did.
Only it wasn't a hollow log.
(LAUGHS) It was a very large crocodile.
I was chasing this water rat.
I had my traps out.
And I was just coming back and I stepped over a little puddle - oh, just a little muddy wallow, really - and there was a crocodile.
And quick as a flash, I went down.
Quick as a flash I got chomped.
It's my own fault.
Caught lots of crocodiles in lots of different places - always let them go again, of course - but this one Well, I'll show you what happened.
This is the fellow.
Have a look at this.
Just tied his jaws up to carry him back.
There we go.
You can tell from the jaw that he's a Johnstone, because that is a freshwater crocodile - this long, slender jaw.
The big saltie has got a big, broad, fat head.
What happened to me, normally when you're catching crocodiles, you grab them there, like that.
But I missed and grabbed there, like that.
And as you can see, these teeth are protruding out.
And as the crocodile rolled, all that weight and energy just slewed around and really screwed the palm out of my hand.
See if I can get his mouth to open.
Come on.
There you go.
(IMITATES CROCODILE GROWLING) Now, look at the way those teeth lock together again.
Look at that - every one fits into a socket and a groove and once they lock onto a fish or a bird, it's irretrievably taken, unless flesh is torn.
Some other beautiful bits of design for living, on this animal - this ear, great big thing, that stretches right back behind the eye.
This is why it's so hard to find crocodiles - all of that is ear.
This animal is a survivor from way back.
300 million years of survival.
The first crocodiles appeared that long ago - one of the earliest reptiles and one of the most efficient.
And look at this eye.
Isn't it brilliant? Just touch it a little bit.
Now, watch it open.
Watch it very carefully open.
See the three eyelids work? Two come down like that and the third one goes 'pdoiinng! ', right across.
Now, we've got the remnants of that just there - that little pink bit in our eye is the remnants of that third eyelid.
All of this is designed for living.
Beautiful legs fold back into the body.
A magnificent tail.
And that design was so good that it's never been chrome-plated or updated.
It's the same design that you find in fossils from the very early times, in the rocks.
Well, gotta let you go, little one.
I think I can make it back to the water with you.
Come on.
Upsie-day.
(GRUNTS) Oh, dear, dear, dear, dear.
That's a little much for me.
(GRUNTS) (LAUGHS) Weighs a tonne.
It's really only about 120 pound but, boy, it feels like a lot more.
There you go.
Come on, off you go.
Isn't she beautiful? (HARRY GRUNTS) She's walking across the bottom, up on a log.
Eyes up - ooh! Now, some people might find it strange to let go "an ugly animal".
They're beautiful! They're soft, cuddly.
And they're also protected.
Right across Australia, all crocodiles protected.
It's quite amazing.
Despite the floods, the fire and the changed river, the thing I came here to get - the Lawn Hill water rat - is still living here in the river.
Because it's a survivor - can ride out the flood, it's in the water when the fires come, it's still here.
There you are.
Come on, little man.
Come on, little man.
(SIGHS) What have you done? Damaged your nose.
(TUTS) (GROWLS) Poor little bloke.
These things panic when they get in a trap.
You've heard of the saying "a trapped rat".
These really do panic.
Never mind, we'll let you go again in a minute so you don't need to growl like that.
That growling sound is their absolute warning call.
That's their sign, "Get away, you're much too close.
"At any moment now, I'm going to explode and bite you.
" These fellows The modern-day scientists are quite right.
The older scientists only ever saw one animal - this big water rat with the dark fur, pale yellowish belly and the long tail, half-white.
And in Queensland, most of the water rats are half this size, got a bright yellow belly, don't have anywhere near that dark fur - it's much paler.
And so they thought it was a different species.
And this just illustrates how the races of water rats occur across Australia.
Perhaps in 100 or 1,000 years time, the Lawn Hill water rat, when he's isolated from his fellows for that long, will develop into a complete species, something quite different to anything else in Australia (GROWLS) Alright, I'm gonna let you go.
Normally at this time of the day, he's deep in a burrow somewhere on the riverbank.
Well, I know where his burrow is so I'll take him back so he can find his own way home.
Oh, isn't that lovely?! Oh, swim, swim, swim.
"There's home.
I know that place.
" And straight underwater.
He's right, he's home.
And all of these animals are the same - they have their own environment, their own place, their own little domain.
Put them back.
Enjoy them, by all means, but put them back.
They'll go straight back to where they belong.
(BOAT ENGINE RUMBLES) Animals like the Lawn Hill water rat are the pioneers into that ruined river.
They're going in to establish a new regime, a new situation.
They've come from up here, further up the river where the damage did not occur.
But look over there.
It's already occurred here in the past.
There's the evidence - the old waterline and the new riverine habitat coming up alongside it.
This area is a fauna sanctuary.
It's governed by law in Queensland.
But until such time as it's made a national park - then we can have it for tomorrow.
Until then, pigs, cattle and man will continue to ruin the river.
(THEME MUSIC)