A tale of Tim Flannery, a BBC/History Channel documentary and me

My usual Thursday morning train commute, and a quick check of my emails revealed that Coast Australia season 3 (BBC – Foxtel History Channel) were interested in doing a piece on my research into pumice rafting with the setting of Hinchinbrook Island as a backdrop. I replied immediately to say I was interested. After a quick chat with the show’s producers the dates, location and story were set.

I met 2007 Australian of the year, environmental crusader and all round lovely guy Professor Tim Flannery on the first morning of the shoot. I admit to a few nerves in meeting him for the first time due to his credentials and also because he would be the one interviewing me. But I had nothing to worry about, Tim, with all of his fame is a lovely man – intriguing with stories of his adventures in Papua New Guinea one minute and joking around making everyone laugh the next. I was put immediately at ease.

Our journey began with a two hour road trip from Cairns – south to the tiny coastal town of Cardwell. Upon arrival we loaded the boat with cameras, food, sound equipment and mosquito repellent and slipped into the azure waters offshore from Cardwell on our way to Hinchinbrook Island. Dugongs lazily swam in the waters surrounding the boat while giant birdwing butterflies flapped wings adorned with unimaginable colours signalling I was in paradise. We disembarked the boat amongst a mangrove forest as yellow sunbirds flitted from tree to tree in our wake. Next a golden beach fringed with rainforest greeted us from over the crest of a dune and our guide and skipper told us to look for fossilised crabs which were beautifully preserved in ancient muddy sediments – possibly a few million years old (according to Tim – a palaeontologist by trade). A short climb up through some steaming rainforest filled with the shells of giant land snails to the location of our shoot for the day. Here there was a large depression on the leeward side of the beach where pumice has been swept by wind and tide over the past two years, a perfect spot for our story.

Being in a documentary film is really a different experience, particularly in such a remote location, it is not glamorous – there is no hair or makeup person helping you to look your best and if the wind makes your hair look like you were just electrocuted well that’s just how it will look on film. Many unexpected things happen which delay shooting such as rain, and then the fact that your shirt and hair got wet and filming cannot recommence until it has dried. The number of angles required for mere minutes of television time is unbelievable – with on average 6 to 10 takes required for one or two questions. Shots of the hands, shots of the faces, shots from behind, shots from the front – the list goes on and on. Luckily we didn’t have to remember a script! Our shoot was over two days and on the second day we scaled a waterfall for the introduction to the segment. The view was truly magnificent so it was understandable why the spot was chosen – but almost funny in that it will only be for one or two minutes of footage in the end.

Our journey back home that day was a bumpy one with a washing machine of swell and tide, but none of this detracted from the distinct beauty of Hinchinbrook Island where rainforest gave way to rocky escarpment and heath changing back to rainforest and finally to mangrove swamps. The Cardwell inlet (man-made) gave us one last tropical treat as two large crocodiles greeted us from the shoreline. And that as they say in the film industry is a wrap!

Coast Australia 3 will air in 2017 on Fox History Channel and on SBS




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