In the Wild (1992) s01e24 Episode Script

Victoria: The Crossroads

At first glance, you'd say, "That's an ordinary snail.
" Very primitive sort of animal.
Again, these animals are so old they've spread right across the world.
Here in Australia, they're extremely useful indicating biological changes that have taken place across the continent.
This southern part of Australia might almost be called the crossroads of the continent, because here, life forms that have made the immense journey through the changes of the past meet up.
Ah! What a beautiful thing to find in a stream.
Most unexpected! These electric-blue claws, red legs - a strange colour combination.
This is a yabby.
They're so common down here they're even sold in the shops for people to eat.
It's one of the crustaceans.
This front pair of legs have changed to claws.
The other walking legs - one, two, three, four of them on each side.
So that's what tells you it's a crustacean - there are actually five pairs of legs.
The first pairs have got claws on them, and you can see them nipping at my finger, but the back ones have just got little hooks on them for preening and cleaning.
The mouth parts are modified into multiple mouth parts.
Underneath the tail are the swimmerets where the female carries her eggs and the young, when she's got them.
The tail normally rolls up, like that.
And they've got this lovely lobster adaptation of a hard shell.
But scientifically, they're of very great linkage importance.
This animal has a counterpart in Tasmania.
It looks like this, but it grows to about that long - 12 pound in weight, the biggest freshwater crustacean in Australia.
And it has another counterpart in Western Australia called the marron - another big freshwater crayfish, up to about five pound in weight - and yet another one in Queensland, which grows to about three pound in weight.
So, scientifically, they're pretty closely connected.
Beautiful thing.
Well, one doesn't make a feed.
Besides which, I'm not really anxious about having a yabby feed right now, so we'll let him go back in the water.
These are just another one of these fascinating animals that you find in Victoria that shows the relationship between this part of the continent and the whole rest of the Australian landmass.
Victoria is the smallest of the mainland states, and it's in the cold, wet, clammy corner of Australia.
And yet there's not much water evident here.
The paradox of Victoria is the enormous range of habitats which occur in its small space.
Never learn! Salt lake, see something that's interesting, bang on the brakes and you're into a skid.
Fatal.
What I stopped for was this.
Victoria is really a surprising land.
This is South Gippsland - cold, wet, forested country, and yet it has this added degree of salt lakes.
This line of red sand caught my eye.
It's not really sand at all.
It's a collection of shells from an animal called Coxiella.
Lives out there in the salt lake.
As the animal dies, the shells float to the surface and are blown in like so much froth and they line up, form a strand line.
Just beyond that is the edge of the wave action, where the waves actually beat against the shore.
And beyond that are the specially adapted plants for the salt living.
This samphire is probably the best example of these salt-tolerant plants.
These aren't leaves.
These are the great fleshy stems.
It's the nearest thing that Australia has to a cactus.
It stores water in the good season, exudes the salt in little scales.
And this red tip on the end is the flowering head and seeds.
You know, when you look at an area as small as this closely, you see it's not only the plants that are colonising this salt habitat.
There's a snail that's moved in to eat the plants.
There's a little case moth swinging in the wind.
There are the eggs of the lacewing.
These things are so voracious the eggs have to be laid on a stalk, so as soon as the young one hatches out he doesn't eat all his brothers and sisters.
But the exciting stories here are the plants - far more exciting than the animals - because in their very structure, they have to defeat the combined impact of all of the elements.
And even this apparently dead silver-grey matt is a living plant.
And that silver-grey is its protection against the sun and the salt.
But this whole area is doomed - not immediately, perhaps in 1,000 or 10,000 years - because this is southern Victoria, it's a very wet, high-rainfall area.
Each year, the rains come down and the salt is washed out and enters the sea.
And each year, the forest plants, that don't really tolerate the salt, creep in a little closer and the salt-tolerant plants creep a little more into the lake and the lake diminishes fractionally.
Here, you can see the layers - that's the forest, then a low layer of in-between plants, here, the plants that can take it totally and out there, the salt lake itself, at the moment dead except for microscopic plants.
Slowly changing each year.
Ah.
This particular place has got a very special thing living here.
That's a wombat burrow, and this leaf litter has been covered up by the dirt that the wombat has thrown out.
And the covered vegetation sets up a particular food relationship.
And in that, you find something which I'm looking for.
Here we are.
(CLEARS THROAT) There's one.
There's another.
They're not very interesting things to look at, but to a naturalist or a scientist, they are one of the most amazing things.
Bear with me a moment while I dig one out.
Be very careful with these.
(CLEARS THROAT) This being close to the sea, too, you get a bit of a frog in your throat.
That's got him? No, that's a root.
There we are.
Ah, beaut! Got him.
That's the thing.
Now, that is one of the most remarkable things.
This little bit that was sticking up out of the ground is the spore head of a fungus.
There's the stem.
But what it's growing in is a caterpillar.
And this is called the vegetable caterpillar.
It's a most peculiar thing.
The caterpillar gets in there - into that layer of vegetation that's rotting - and eats it, but somewhere in the process, the fungus spore is ingested or attacks its body.
And as it moves along, the fungus mycelium, that is, the roots of the fungus, the plant of the fungus, spread right through the caterpillar body until they literally mummify it.
The caterpillar just stiffens up in the ground and turns to wood.
And out of that wooden caterpillar shoots a single spore head which comes to the surface, the spores are spread, ready for the next generation of caterpillars to be turned into vegetables.
You can still see the head and the little feet on the caterpillar - the whole thing.
This is really one of the very exciting places in any environment.
Whether it's a wet one or a dry one, a hot one or a cold one, this area remains the last frontier, as it were.
Not only the battlefield between the sea and the land, with the waves washing away what these colonising plants manage to gain each year, and it's also a most important place for animals, because where there are plants and dead things, then there are scavengers and predators.
And even on the most highly developed beaches, you find some wildlife, like this little bloke.
(EXHALES) That's a little skink lizard.
He's down here looking for insects - things like sandflies and mosquitoes, all those sort of things that come on the beach.
Long tail.
Short, blunt, triangular head.
Typical skink.
Even his ears have got these little cover plates on them to stop them getting jabbed as he pushes his way through the branches and the stones and the sticks and things.
Beautiful little animals.
Lovely orange belly.
Quite common, quite unafraid.
If you're having lunch on the beach, like a lot of people do, for a picnic, he'll actually come up and take a tomato sandwich or a bit of cheese or something like that.
Very friendly things indeed.
Don't ever be frightened of these.
There you go, little man.
There you go.
But there's more subtlety to these beaches than meets the eye.
Come to the beach, these things are obvious.
Up there is the effect of the climate on the plants that grow here.
The salt spray and the constant wind burn plants off, and we get an effect called wind-pruning.
That shows it beautifully.
This used to be a cattle property, but now National Parks have taken it over.
While the cattle were here, they cut this pathway from the cliff to the beach.
The sea breezes have kept the tunnel open.
Once you get through that coastal scrub, you get onto this flat, pruned plain.
It's the most remarkable thing.
You wouldn't imagine that things could persist here.
The ground is hard, the sea spray comes in, the wind howls over it, and, of course, since white man came, the cattle graze over it.
And the cattle-owners every now and again put a fire through it to sweeten the graze up.
And you get this sort of thing.
There's the scrubby bush that was pruned by nature.
It's been burnt off.
And here's the regrowth.
And the cattle can eat that, so it's a very useful way of using this natural plain country.
But each time the fire goes through, the forest edge goes back further and you can see the dead trees being pushed back because the fire is the extra little weight on top of the existing problems of salt and wind and heat and dryness.
But now the cattle have stopped, this area will start to regenerate.
That clump is a very good example.
You can see three fire histories.
Big sticks, medium-size sticks and the ones from the immediate past burn.
And from the base of them come the new plants.
Now the burning will stop and they will start to grow up into copses of timber and regenerate this plain.
And the wildlife that normally lives here and recolonises out of the forest will come through those copses.
Not all the wildlife is terribly friendly.
That one's certainly not what I'd call aggressive, but he's very, very dangerous indeed.
If you see him, leave him alone, even if you've got a stick in your hand.
Out here in the bush, they don't hurt anybody.
(SIGHS) This fellow is very dangerous.
He's one of the most poisonous snakes in Australia.
It's funny, you know - so many Australians still have this strange belief that any snake with bands on is a tiger snake.
In this case, they'd be right.
These bands are the mark of the tiger.
He's got relatives in Tasmania and other relatives in Western Australia.
And the tiger snake is a cool-, wet-climate, highly poisonous snake.
To be sure, you look at the undertail pattern.
And you'll notice that the scales under his tail have no separation.
The poisonous part is the mouth.
Very, very large teeth.
See them there? Protected by flesh.
And one thing to all people - if you see a snake, or, for that matter, a spider, or any animal you're not sure of, leave it alone.
Snakes are deadly, poisonous things, but out here in the bush, they don't hurt anybody.
So we'll let this fellow go.
Here, he belongs - a safe place in the forest and he's part of it.
Off you go.
Slowly at first, and then he heads off quickly into the forest and safety.
Victoria's pretty well known for its wildflowers, particularly its orchids.
This little hyacinth orchid is one of the very beautiful ones.
And oddly enough, it's orchids that give Victoria a link with tropical Australia.
Down here in the gully, you'll see what I mean.
These are what I mean.
An orchid that grows on rocks - at least, appears to.
This one's pretty obvious.
This little fellow, not so obvious.
They both have brilliant flowers in summertime.
They're in their dormant stage now.
They're creating their own garden.
Their roots are spreading out over the rock surface, and all of this debris that's coming down from above is being trapped by the plant, and that's what the plants are living on.
In other words, they're not making their own food out of raw material.
They're living on plant material.
Its relatives are found right through southern NSW.
It's a true tropical thing.
But down there, further still, in the jungly part of the forest, we find a genuine relic of tropical Australia.
There we are - the true tropical link.
Epiphytic orchids - orchids that grow on the trunks of living trees.
There's the roots.
Yes, there's another young plant growing there.
The link between north and southern Australia - the tropical plants that are the remnants of what was once an entire range of plants down the east coast.
And, you know, this place will remain a secret with me, because plants like that are very endangered - not because their habitat's destroyed, not because the climate has changed, but because plant lovers, native plant lovers, rip them off the trees and put them in their gardens so they can love them even more.
(CHUCKLES) There's a marriage! A tree fern against a tree.
Completely wedded in their bases.
A very common sight.
Even the tree fern, though, is a link to the old Gondwanaland - the old southern continent which spread and split across the world.
There's another marriage, but quite a different sort.
A creeper has gone around a tree trunk when it's young.
The tree has grown out around it and it's taken that peculiar, deformed shape.
Even the tree I'm under is something quite special.
It's a leatherwood.
And Tasmanians would like to have you believe that leatherwood is only found in Tasmania.
This is one of these southern plants.
Its stronghold is Tasmania, where it's the basis of a major honey industry.
But it occurs here in Victoria, and a few are reputed to occur in NSW.
A place like this, with its mixture of Gondwanaland plants, tropical plants and true Australian plants - and, of course, the animals that go with them - can only really be enjoyed quietly, sitting down, and letting it happen around you.
Now, that's the sort of thing that you dream about - sitting in a quiet, cool place and watching one of the living fossils of the world playing at your feet.
That's a platypus, as if you didn't know - the very symbol of Australian wildlife.
A monotreme - it and the echidna are the only two left in the world - and he just doesn't care at all.
One of the reasons, I suppose, is because right across Australia, these animals are protected, where they still exist.
Once, thousands of these animals were shot and collected for their skins - that beautiful waterproof fur.
You can see the way it's shedding the water.
That wiggling of the head as he goes under water - he's searching the bottom for yabbies and worms, aquatic insects.
As he comes up, the nostrils open, he breathes, because he's a mammal, an air-breathing animal.
That mouth - that great duckbill - is soft and rubbery, almost like plastic.
Little undershot jaw, and the little eyes sitting on top of the head.
As he goes along, he doesn't see much.
That bill is incredibly sensitive, and he feels everything.
As soon as he touches it with that bill, he gets his food that way.
I don't think there's a man alive who would deliberately shoot one of those.
But we do destroy them, because as we dam the rivers and introduce fish and farm the land and destroy this habitat, so we destroy the platypus.
When you're walking through the bush, as well as watching, you need to listen.
(VARIOUS ANIMAL NOISES) Hear that? Underneath the bellbirds, there's a different sound.
(BATS SCREECH) This is where they meet the so-called cold, wet rainforest of southern Victoria, which is so hot there's sweat pouring out of me.
The humidity is murderous.
There's march flies everywhere.
There are tropical animals, which is what you'd expect, right alongside these southern things - giant tree ferns.
They've even got bats perched in them.
These bats are fascinating things in their own right.
They're flying foxes, or fruit bats.
And like me, they're hot.
They don't have the same sort of cooling mechanisms that I have, so they fan themselves.
These particular bats don't have the radar that some bats do and their enlarged eyes give them their very foxy appearance.
This fellow is really hanging on - almost a security blanket situation.
And these are the true northern bats, the animals that, during the very dry summer, come down the east coast, invade this cold, wet southern climate because it's a relic of what used to be here in the olden days.
In those times, Australia was a lusher, warmer climate, and the whole of the east coast was their hunting ground.
Now, of course, when winter comes, all of this would be under water.
It's cold and wet and damp.
These ferns are relictual things from the colder, wetter days.
The bats are the new invaders that have come down from the north.
A lot of people think they are purely tropical.
But here, in Victoria, we've got this incredible combination of flying foxes or fruit bats and other animals which are purely northern things, we've got relationships between these animals and the animals in WA, the other side of the continent, and relationships between here and Tasmania.
And so it's really the crossroads, the focal point for the great animal and plant movement and development across Australia.