In the Wild (1992) s01e26 Episode Script

The Blue Mountains: Threatened Wilderness

Birds have always fascinated man, particularly waterbirds.
One of the reasons is their various methods of feeding.
This whimbrel is probing the mud with his long bill, seeking worms, while a grey teal dabbles through the liquid mud, seeking the organisms that live there.
The white ibis plunges deep for food that's buried but the silver gull just pecks on the surface.
The stilt scythes through the water for mosquito wrigglers and similar things.
Pelicans do so well with their netting, they can afford to spend much of their time preening themselves in the sun.
A most effective feeder is the spoonbill.
All of these birds have one thing in common - they're all feeding on a river that flows through the heart of Sydney, the Parramatta River.
Sydney, the biggest city in Australia, now occupies an area that was once covered by natural bushland.
Its shade comes from buildings, not trees.
Its canyons are concrete and bitumen.
What's a city got to do with In the Wild? In these buildings, decisions are made that ultimately affect the wilderness, the heritage, the way of life of the Australians who live in these suburban houses.
75% of Australians live in suburban parts of the cities, and suburbia and the factories crowd ever closer to the river, utilising it and dumping wastes and sewage and run-off, choking it out of existence all for man's gain.
(ENGINE RUMBLES) This wall was built to maintain the factory against the floods.
All the mangroves were cut down and the riverbank became an artificial bank.
All that happened then was instead of a narrow stream deep enough to take boats, it became a great, flat mudflat, useless for anything.
And of course, the dumped wastes killed the wildlife.
And then public opinion and conscience started to change, and new legislation was brought to bear to make sure that the users of the river kept it clean.
Not just kept it clean but, in fact, cleaned it up.
Those people over there are cleaning up some of the mess.
They're paid to do it.
Now, you're never gonna get it back the way it was.
That just doesn't work.
But you are gonna get a beautiful place, and this river is a beautiful place.
And that's not bad, for a place that used to be the cesspool of Sydney.
But if you don't use the river as a cesspit, what do you do with your sewerage and your rubbish and your wastes? (LAUGHS) There's the answer - the ocean.
Some misguided people still believe that's an infinite rubbish dump.
And just out there is where the sewage goes.
You can see the slick on the horizon, because it's not just the sewage, it's the detergents coming up.
When the winter storms come in, they blow up, the detergent layer is carried in on the spray and this is what happens.
This beach is a recreation area for people.
They come here for swimming and surfing and sunning, and there's nice lawns, tables.
And these trees were planted for shade and shelter.
Now, they're specially selected - they're Norfolk Island pines, and they evolved in a windswept, salt-blasted area, and they'll take sea situations.
But that stuff out there, when the winter storms come, the detergent blows up and lands on the leaves and it dissolves the protective coating, the natural coating of the leaves.
The leaves then lose their moisture and die off.
In summertime, you get regrowth because you don't get the deposition.
But all of those new shoots will die this winter as the storms blast them again.
And eventually the trees themselves die.
And from this and from the rivers, we learn the basic lesson that nature MUST have its way, its laws MUST be obeyed.
And by learning that lesson, we have a magnificent opportunity today of saving a wilderness very close to Sydney, in the Blue Mountains.
It's a huge area, and as far as the eye can see, there's no obvious trace of man.
On the ground there are the subtle things like introduced animals and plants, but only a few adventurous people, like naturalists and explorers, have been through this country.
When you come in closer, the uniform landscape resolves itself into a wide range of habitats.
Eucalyptus forest, creeks, deep gorges and gullies and hanging swamps dominated by rock faces.
These cliffs were the guardians.
They guarded this wilderness against the pioneers, against the white man.
But wilderness is a strange concept because the men who were here before used this wilderness and found it good, and they left their evidence behind.
These grooves and cuts in the rocks are where Aboriginal men, sitting on these cliffs and looking out over that vast area below rubbed their axe heads and sharpened them.
Now, to our way of life, that's not a very exciting thing.
But when you examine the technology of this, it's really involved.
To work sandstone to sharpen axes, you need water.
And every human carries water, either spit or urine, but that's not enough.
And so always these rubbing grooves are associated with waterholes.
Sometimes it's a natural curl in the sandstone which holds water which has been rubbed out by the people.
In other places, like that one over there, it's actually been made by steady grinding down.
And when the rains come, as they frequently do in this Sydney sandstone country, waterholes fill up, and then up on the hilltops, up on the lookouts, up on top of the cliffs, there are little pockets of water - you don't have to carry water there.
And so they would sit here, rubbing, having a look about.
That's not all that you find in this situation.
Incidentally, don't get fooled if you're looking for them.
There are natural phenomena here too.
These streaks and curves are part of the sandstone formation.
But look down here.
This is fantastic.
A huge wasp city.
This little overhang must have been populated by wasps for years.
These are paper-making animals.
And there's just colony after colony, side by side.
There's quite a few of them.
You can see them coming in and they're carrying the chewed paper, the wood fibre which they're mixing and extending their combs.
And later on, they'll fill those up with food, nectar and pollen seal them off just like a beehive.
There's a piece of the paper they make - chewed-up plant fibre which is then cemented into the characteristic hexagon, like most of these wasps/bee-type animals.
You'll notice the back of it is completely smooth - unlike bees, they just have one-sided comb.
And this great hard area.
Notice how soft this is.
And that's quite hard.
Because the drip coming off that wasp nest - the paper, the food and the droppings - has just sealed this up completely.
Add a little water, and you've even got a place where plants can live.
In this whole cliff face, this must be the most desirable residence for wasps.
Gee, those wasp nests were marvellous things but that's not what we came down here for.
It's this fretting underhang where the art of the Aboriginals who made the groovings up on top was portrayed.
They pictured the animals that were sacred to them, that they lived on.
And you can see there bird tracks.
Up under the ledge, there's a snake, a nice wriggly one, carved in the rocks.
And it's all built around that block of red ochre, very likely, because red ochre in rock was the blood of the heroes.
And the whole of the ceremonial life of this area would be built about this site.
And there are probably thousands of them here.
200 years ago, they were living symbols of a people.
Today, animals, weather are removing away.
And they're not helped at all by this sort of thing other men putting their marks on the rocks.
But this isn't sacred marks, this is profane.
And the sad thing is, these names are gonna stay here when the Aboriginal heritage is gone.
At the very best, these people are ignorant.
At the very worst, they're deliberate criminals destroying Australian heritage.
Just for the bolstering of their own tiny egos to leave some mark of themselves here for the rest of the world to wonder at.
(COUGHS) Whoo! I feel like they do.
This is one of these dreaded bushfires that sweep through wilderness occasionally.
But it's only dreaded by people.
It's certainly feared by all the animals, and you can see all the little animals scurrying for cover.
But in natural terms, in ecosystem terms, fire is a phenomena the same as rain or wind or sun or snow or any other of the physical phenomena that take place.
Every plant and animal that lives in this wilderness has a technique for survival.
These ants moving into their tree have a chance.
It's a fifty-fifty chance.
The tree might burn, in which case the whole colony is gone.
But if it doesn't burn, they're safe.
And so these little islands - from little, tiny, single trees to rock faces, to swamps - are places of refuge, and animals scutter into them.
And while the fire is a tragedy in the sense that any animal like a koala or a possum that gets caught and cooked, it's not a tragedy like it is to humans who put a whole lot of endeavour into creating an environment - building and pasture and stock - then have a fire sweep through and take the lot out.
That's the real disaster of bushfires.
These plants and these animals from the wilderness have come a journey through time of perhaps 100 million years learning to live with fire.
And the ones that live here now are survivors because they've lived with fire all that time.
We're the interlopers.
We haven't yet learnt to live with fire on our effects.
One of the major refuges in a fire are these swampy areas, which don't burn readily.
I found a little animal here this morning, and I'm looking for evidence of how he lives in this swampy habitat.
Now, that's the sort of thing - a burrow.
Ad there's another one.
That's a run belonging to this animal.
It's not a mouse.
It's a thing called antechinus, a little carnivorous marsupial.
Great big teeth.
They're found all over Australia.
But in this particular area, they favour these creeks and swamps and even up on the hill slopes, the trickles of water coming off the rocks where there's a bit of lush vegetation.
Beautiful things.
Very well adapted.
Let him go in this bush.
Off you go.
(LAUGHS) Full of mosquitoes and leeches, these hanging swamps are quite something.
A lot of people don't quite know what that term means.
In this Hawkesbury sandstone and sedimentary sort of country, you get a lot of fine clays leach out, and they collect in a dish high up in the range.
And then the clays settle and form a sort of a saucer shape which fills up with water.
That's what's called a hanging swamp.
And the reason there aren't many trees is because the soil is actually waterlogged.
The nitrogen is forced out of the soil, and so only plants that can manage in these very wet conditions survive - things like grevilleas and tea-tree, that sort of thing.
This is a survey track for miners, another impact on wilderness areas.
We use resources like water and minerals, and in the process, wilderness and other fragile environments are threatened and damaged and destroyed.
And this particular wilderness is no exception.
It's threatened because of its value for resources.
These are clues to a naturalist that there's black cockies in the area.
Do you recognise them? (COCKATOOS SCREECH) Perhaps this will help.
Now do you recognise it? Yeah, that's right, it's a pine cone.
And the pine cone is so hard that only black cockies can crack them open to get the seeds out of them.
But what are pine cones doing in the wilderness? This isn't really the wilderness.
This is the Forestry buffer zone around the edge.
Forestry's job is to produce timber, and they plant pine trees in areas where there's little timber production.
Pines give a much greater yield faster.
But many naturalists say that plantations are ecological deserts - they favour a few birds but the understorey offers little refuge for other animals.
(COCKATOOS SCREECH) Now, this is partially true.
The black cockatoos enjoy the pine plantations, cracking away at the cones, but the number of places where other animals can live is considerably diminished.
(BIRDS CHIRP) This particular habitat is the rarest in the wilderness, it's the rarest in Australia - rainforest.
Now, look at that - a beautiful frog.
To most people, a frog is a frog.
Down in the creek, not far away, there's quite a different one (FROG SQUEAKS) Alright.
who looks much the same.
This fellow's got orange legs while this one's got spotted legs.
But that's the major difference.
When you look at them closely, they're very, very similar.
Obviously, they're related frogs.
They both evolved from a common ancestor.
But in the past, one has moved up into this habitat, which is rainforest, and the other has utilised the waterways.
And now they don't even interbreed, they're completely separate species of frogs.
This particular habitat is superb.
From the closed canopy, down through the trunks with their creepers and orchids and ferns, until you get right down, there's this great cathedral, almost, of tree ferns.
But it's not possible for it to be here without the surrounding savannah and the other habitats that all meld together to make one great wilderness consisting of so many components.
The headwaters of the Colo River creates a major habitat.
This little fellow is one of the most badly mutilated animals I've ever seen.
He's just an ordinary long-necked tortoise, but when you look at his back something has broken his shell in half and removed his feet.
He's managed to grow them again, walking on the stumps, weld his shell together again, and he's surviving.
And he's only surviving because he's up here in the headwaters, these top pools arising from a little spring.
He's living on insects and things that live here.
And he's a prime example of this tremendous will to live and expand that every living thing has.
And that sometimes leads to problems because man overrides his will on these natural environments.
And this river, which follows on down to the sea from here, is the last wilderness area near Sydney.
And there's a clash of wills right now as to whether this will remain a wilderness or become part of the pattern of man's daily use.
This vast area is a resource.
It contains so many things which are of value to man - stone, water, timber, coal, other minerals.
It also contains a resource that's essential to the wellbeing of our life - solitude, beauty, the ongoing sense of wonder at natural things and natural landforms.
All of these things are here, miraculously untouched, right alongside the biggest city in Australia.
So we've got a wilderness that's like a treasure chest.
It's got the resource of actual wilderness where people can go, find solitude.
It's a core stronghold of Australian wildlife, Australian heritage.
And it's full of goodies for man to use.
Now, I believe (LAUGHS) but I'm biased.
I guess you know what I believe.
But what do YOU believe? Here's a wilderness.
What do you think ought to be done with it?