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Two In The Top End -

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(generated from captions) people who haven't been able to

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another and they might have to

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hoping for which again of retirement savings they were

underlines the priority of

trying to maintain the maximum

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The sad fact of life we're

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Garry Weaven, thanks for

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are on our odyssey JOHN DOYLE: 'Tim and I the top of the continent right across Australia's last frontier.' as we investigate And you can see how it must seem who want to develop. irresistible to those Yes, that's right. the mighty Kimberley. 'Now we're making our way across Ahead of us is a land of rare birds and destructive fires. It's a land of big trees,

big rivers and big dreams.'

the food bowl of the nation? Can you see this whole area being 'Day 20. on the edge of the Kimberley. We overnight at Emma Gorge A cool morning before the heat. You could spent a lifetime here discovering new things. and never stop the Indiana Jones of stones.' Tim, as always,

Look at this, John. of river rock. It's really quite a beautiful piece this occurred naturally, Are you telling me by someone with a machine? this hasn't been sculpted in No, this is a piece of sandstone, and half a billion years old. probably between a billion Before there was any life on land So, you know, pretty old. or any complex life on Earth. I think, And this formed, presumably, in the bottom of a sea, shallow sea. like you'd see on a beach today. You can see the ripples just It's amazing it's kept its integrity, since it was a sea floor. cos it's had quite a journey

when it was laid down, obviously, Yeah. Well, this was just soft mud or very fine sand. kilometres deep, And it's been pushed right down, and heated into the Earth and compressed little sand grains fused, and all the back up again to the surface got so hot, and then pushed right one of those bluffs up there and eroded away - probably off into this creek. Isn't it fabulous? But this is -

you know, It's wonderful and it just -

it's so full of this stuff. I love this country because and the escarpments around here, I mean, you look at the hills half a billion years old. they're all, you know, of Earth history you get, Mmm, mmm. Wonderful, deep sense

I think, when you touch that. The last time that saw sunlight was half a billion years ago. It is. Yes. That's fantastic. it's the immediate future 'But for the moment, that concerns us. and the rivers are still up. The wet season has barely ended we can make it into the heart We're not sure how much further on the Gibb River Road. of the Kimberley We come to our first challenge.' Oh, water, Tim. the Pentecost River, John. This would have been So let's have a bit of a look. just to poke our way across, but... I think we'll be OK

Yeah. Do you think?

I think so. Are you confident? slowly and see how we go. Just take it gently, OK. We don't really want to walk it. No. of having to contact the police. Or the embarrassment "Sorry, we're stuck." That's right. 'At the height of the wet season, over the roof of our car.' the water would be surging Is it ever. It's a beautiful river, isn't it? Yes. The colour, it's pristine. Clear. 'We plough through with no trouble. obstacles lurking up ahead. Hopefully there are no bigger We travel through endless savannah part of Australia. in this wild and remote big cattle stations. Big distance, big skies, That's the Kimberley. And, of course, big trees.' these boabs, you know. They're an interesting tree, come from Madagascar. They originally

carried by the current? Ahh! What, the seed Yes. Yeah, across the Indian Ocean got here a million years ago and no-one knows whether they or 100,000 years ago. or two million years ago they haven't spread out But the strange thing is of the continent. Right. of this north-west corner to Australian conditions. They're very well-adapted but they're restricted to this area. You'd think you'd see them all over, to be almost considered native. So they've been here long enough Oh, no, they're certainly native. These are a distinct species now. Adapted to Australian conditions. Ah. Been here long enough. Yeah, yeah. to hold moisture. And I assume they're this shape Yes, that's right. during the wet season, They only get to drink right through the dry. then they've got to carry in these trunks. So they hold a huge amount of water Yeah, right, right. So no so good...they'd be porous. That's right. Not so good for timber. a nice table out of boab. We wouldn't be making Well, probably fortunately not, Unfortunately not. be too many here. otherwise there might not Good for writing on. True. There's quite a bit of graffiti. Oh, yes!

have put their mark on these trees Some of the early explorers to this day. in the Kimberley that remain there that's either 'Gravy' or 'Granny'. Well, we have here 'Rod +...' It's 'Granny,' I think. He was probably travelling with his family. We're a very tolerant society, Tim. We make no judgements. That's right. Very good. Lovely tree. 'This is ancient country. Majestic, stately. But like a wizened elder, also worn and tired.' The other thing that's obvious is how little soil there is, Tim. Yes. There's no soil, is there? That's the story of Australia, John. Yes. The soil is quite another. The water's one thing. The soil is quit another. You know, John, sometimes, I worry that not enough people understand rocks. If you understand rocks, you understand the world, you know? Geology should be mandatory, I think. You think so? I do, John. Every school, every high school should have a geology course. Right, OK. It just unlocks the world under your feet as the most fascinating thing in existence, I think. It's just amazing. Tim, the first thing that strikes me as I stand here is the complete absence... or influence of people. Hey? Is this as pristine as it gets on this planet? Yes, it is, I think. As far as I can see, there's nothing here

that's changed - this probably hasn't changed

for...in terms of the general view,

for, well, countless thousands of years. Yes. Long before people ever arrived here. Yeah. And that gives it a real beauty, doesn't it? It's a rarity to see something like this on the planet. Yeah, it's true. Well, you know, I'm just filled with a sort of dread, foreboding, when I see it, because I know just over that horizon there, just off to the east, there's a wave of devastation that's going to sweep through here two or three wet seasons from now. You're talking about the march of the toads. That's right. And it's going to carry off every lizard, every monitor, every frill-necked lizard, the snakes. Yes. It'll be an empty landscape, just as we've seen for so many thousands of kilometres off to the east. Yes, it will be. And they're marching inexorably, like a Roman legion. Yeah, they are. Boom, boom, boom. Well, I suppose, over thousands of years, it's likely to recover, but for you and me and our kids and their kids, this will be a blighted landscape unless something's done. 'The pounding march of the toads seems unstoppable. But something else may soon stop us. We reach the grader repairing the Gibb River Road after the wet. There was no certainty we'd be allowed to travel any further.' Hi. How are you going? John. Good. Michelle. Michelle. This is Tim. How are you going? I'm good. Now, we're guessing that because the grader's just here that we're not going to be able to get past, is that right? No, that's right. The road's still closed. It's still closed. Yeah. And any idea when it might be open? Another week or so, maybe. Another week? Five days. Bloody hell. That's it, we're buggered. We're headed south, mate. We were expecting it, but... Let's make other arrangements. We will. It's all right. How much traffic do you get, when the tourist season's on? June, July, August, busiest time. Sometimes we can see a couple of hundred cars go past a day. Couple of hundred. That's not much, in the scheme of things, is it? Yeah. It's quite busy. Yeah. Are there any plans to bitumen...put bitumen on this...? I hope not. We'll be out of a job. But I think it takes away the tourist attraction, too. You think more tourists come because it is off-road? Oh, of course. Yeah. Well, it's... Yeah, that's probably right. Yeah, they love it. Yeah. Pity they didn't learn how to drive on it properly. Oh, right. The standards are pretty bad, eh? Do you get many prangs? Lots of flat tyres. People don't realise, you know, once - people think once a road's been graded, just like this section that Mark's just finished here, they can sit on 100km/h. That's not true. That's when you do get your flat tyres, cos all the rocks and everything have just been pulled out,

so you're better off going slower over a freshly graded road. Well, that's wise counsel. It is.

Yeah. Onwards and upwards, Tim. Definitely, John. We're heading south. Happy grading, Michelle. See you later. Thanks, Michelle. And who knows? If we pass this way again, we might meet again. Call in on a Sunday. We'll have fish. Ah, there you go! Sounds great. All right OK. All right. Righto. Bye. Bye. 'With our tail between our legs, we backtrack. We're due at Mornington Station in the heart of the Kimberley. Now there's only one way to get there.' Well, Tim, this... 'Heading deep into the last frontier, we could see how the rivers had gouged into this country into this country over the millennia. In the middle of cattle country, we're visiting an unusual conservation project funded by public donations.

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy owns 19 former cattle stations across Australia. Mornington Station is one of the jewels in their crown. Already, Tim spots something with his eagle eye.' Oh, look at that bustard. You don't see them very often. They used to be all over Australia,

but they've vanished from the southern half of Australia due to hunting... Yes, yes.

..and foxes and so forth And they're mostly just up in the north now. Beautiful fellow. OK. It's lovely to get that close to one. Yeah. It's the most fearless bustard I've ever seen.

Yeah! 'One of the greatest threats to wildlife is fire. It's staggering to learn around half the Kimberley goes up in smoke every year - an area the size of Switzerland. Ironically, the way to control fires is to start fires. Tim's off to burn some bush with Mornington's chief scientist, Dr Sarah Legge.'

OK, see ya.

Yeah. Good luck. All right, I'll start dropping them. 'Sarah drops ping-pong balls loaded with incendiary crystals across the country.' What's the window of time you've got to do this sort of burning? It's pretty short. In any one system, like, vegetation system, it might be as short as ten days to two weeks where it's really safe. 'Fires are part of the natural order here. But they're often too big and too hot. The aim is to reduce their extent and intensity.' We're really pleased with this burn,

cos you can see how patchy it is. Left lots of patches of unburnt stuff in amongst the fire scar, which is exactly what we're aiming for.

Yeah, I know. It's fantastic, isn't it? Like a real mosaic. One of the biggest challenges we face here was coming up with a way of tackling fire. The Kimberley is dominated by a pattern of really huge fires that happen in the mid to late dry season. And you can see from this map that Mornington's huge - it's 320,000 hectares. But these fires can be double, treble, quadruple the size. Look at the challenge here, John. What we've got is Aboriginal land,

you've got conservation land, you've got working pastoral properties all trying to come together. That, to me, is the triumph of this. Conservationists are worried about the effect of these huge fires on biodiversity. But pastoralists don't like them either because they damage pasture. And so that's economic value to them. And the Aboriginal communities are concerned about them as well because of damage to country. Also damage to cultural sites. If you look at this map here, John. Amazing - that's northern Australia and what's burnt. Look at how pervasive the problem is. So this little experiment here, if it works, could influence all of northern Australia. Yeah. 'After a few years of innovative fire management, the fires are fewer and less destructively hot. It's good for cattle and good for wildlife. We stalk one of Australia's most beautiful birds. A prized cage bird, the Gouldian finch has been pushed close to extinction in the wild. Field ecologist Jo Heathcote cunningly lures them with mating calls on her MP3 player.' MATING CALLS PLAY So once we've opened the net, we'll come back so that they can't see us. And I've turned the player back on, so, normally, the Gouldians will come in and respond to the playback. Here they're coming down to the dirt, so sometimes you have to flush them into the net. And how long have you had to wait? Uh, I've had to wait hours before. Usually here's very good, though. Do you have to be quick to get them out once they go in? Yeah, cos they can overheat. Cos they'd panic, wouldn't they? Yeah, they're a little confused, I think, when they go in the net. So they just seem to lie there. They flap a little. Well done. Excellent. Yeah. 'Jo and Dr Steve Murphy run the remnant finches through some basic check-ups to see how they're fairing.' So, Steve, what's really the limiting factor? Is it the number of nest holes or the amount of seed that they can find during the wet season? It seems to be a combination.

They're compelled to nest in tree hollows, which ties them to particular areas

and then that critical food is spinifex. And as that gets rarer in the landscape, they're sort of forced to make one of two decisions. They can either try and commute from the nest hollow out to the spinifex to feed. In doing so, they'll exhaust themselves. Or they just decide not to breed. But either way, the population's just gonna go down. OK, so, here we have a female Gouldian. I love the mauve and then the mauve bleeding into the yellow. Mmm. So the process is, first I band them with this little metal band. That's got an individual number, and then I bleed them. I find the vein under the wing and with a needle - so I'm like a vampire, at this stage. Poor little bugger. And there. The areas where cattle is being removed, the Gouldian stands a better chance of fighting back. It does, because cattle do preferentially graze some grass species which they find tasty. Yeah. What you're doing here, it's monitoring how your burning's going in a sense? Yes. And grazing. And grazing. So when we de-stock. Yeah. You can tell by the condition of the birds whether your other management's really working. Absolutely. Yeah, they're an extremely good indicator of that. The real key to maintaining biodiversity in the north is to try and break up those... those impacts that are happening on a landscape scale. So, to try and break it up, make things patchy, make sure we've got some old spinifex left in the system, make sure that not all areas are grazed and particularly sensitive areas are not grazed. So I think that's the key to making sure that, pastoralists can go on doing what they do and the plants and animals have somewhere to live as well. So those two are ready to go. They're pretty quick, actually, once they see the light. Yeah. OK.

They were quick. That's great. 'All this work takes place on what was once

a 3,500 square kilometre cattle station. Head of the Wildlife Conservancy is Atticus Fleming.'

Five or six years ago, you would have seen a few head of cattle down there in the valley.

But, you know, overall, it's a pretty marginal cattle property, which is really the case for a lot of properties across northern Australia. Pastoralism has a longer history in the north-east, obviously, than it does in the north-west of Australia.

And that's reflected in the fact that, say, the Gouldian finch has disappeared, largely, from Queensland, but is hanging on here in the Kimberley. So it's very timely for us to have arrived and purchased Mornington, particularly for the Gouldian finch. If the choice is between preserving a species or feeding the world or feeding ourselves,

if that choice has to be made, can you see this...this whole area being the food bowl of the nation, Atticus?

I think if you look at this country, you'll see it's never going to be the food bowl of the nation. It's not food bowl country, John. But I don't think it's right to set it up

as that choice between, you know, economics, if you like, and the environment because sometimes you have to make that choice, but in a lot of cases, you don't, you can get good outcomes for both. And we certainly work very closely with our pastoral neighbours and others in the community here, because what we're trying to do is work out how to best manage the land. And if we can manage the land well,

also good for the pastoralists. that's a win for wildlife, but it's 'Leeched, weathered, ancient. are never likely The soils of the Kimberley to support intense agriculture. is water. But what the Kimberley has got On this bone-dry continent, want to get their mitts on it.' greedy southerners This is Diamond Gorge This is it, John. on the Fitzroy River. was going to be And this is where the proposed dam water down to Perth. that was going to feed And, of course, the water from here, down that channel by the time it had got to Perth or pipeline, it was a 70-day trip. other end. it would be usable or not at the There were questions as to whether water.' countless megalitres of dammed 'A narrow chasm would deliver of the debate here, isn't it? Well, this is the pointy end It is. It is. You wouldn't need a lot of concrete, John, would you?

No, well, it must be attractive to dam builders the same way the Ord was. That's right. Well, I would say, Tim, let's wait and see if the Ord works. Yeah. But, you know - and it hasn't really worked yet. It's been there for 40 years this spot here is where No. But, the thing is, out - Australia is likely to be battled is where the future of northern another massive dam project whether there'll be and proposed development the new model or whether we're going to try the Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary. represented by Hmm. Yeah. 'As Australia dries up, the water in the north. debates will rage about how to use

Tim and I seek the thoughts Downstream at Fitzroy Crossing, by the mighty Fitzroy of an Indigenous ranger who's lived all his life.' where we are now, If we were to be sitting here, AJ, during the wet season, on the banks of the river where would the water level be? in the wet season. we'd be well under the water the bridge here, If you're looking back towards you've got a beam at the bottom there. And in 2002, that's where the water was lapping. When you came across the river, the bridge that you can see, through the drain holes. Really? the water's popping up did it spread across the plains? So how far, then, the river spreads, Pretty much 25km wide,

Well, that's the power of water. when it bursts the banks. Yeah. she pushes around about When she's flowing, a second. 29,000 cubic metres of water in just over five hours. It could fill the Sydney Harbour Easy. Wow. south want this water, don't you? You can see why people down Yes, yes. can't you? Ticking over. You can see their minds ticking over, to dam this river, you know. A lot of people want up at Diamond Gorge. There was talk of putting a dam in How'd you feel about that? No damn way. No damn way. with the dam? Why is that? What's your problem there's a lot of good country Well, up top there, that can be utilised and a lot of sacred sites

and cultural respect's up there. And just looking at what's been happening around Australia there, it's not a real good idea to play with the river and to take water out. we need it and, of course, The fishes need it, the plants around us need it. 'The urge to build, develop, to dam seems almost instinctive.

this fragile environment. Yet it's often at odds with But there's much to admire Australia's built on.' about the pioneering spirit What have we got here, then?' Yes. Unique, isn't it? Yeah. The old pioneer's cemetery. a dingo trapper? Look at this. Do you reckon he was that one. That's a fully functional trap, We could set that and catch the unwary. You could, couldn't you? Yeah. (READS) "Henry Patrick Abotomey." He was a thorough gentleman, Tim. I'll tell you, that nickname, though, Bot. Bot, yeah. You know the old Australian saying, to bot something, it must have come from somewhere. To bludge something from someone. Yeah. I wonder if Bot was just - Well, he was a thorough gentleman. He may well have been exceedingly generous.

Yeah. Yeah. of the word. It could have been the origin "Of course I have." "Got a durry, Bot?" Always, mate. Yes. Always had a durry. Yeah. He was a thorough gentleman. Did you bot that gear? Never knocked me back. (LAUGHS) lived a hard life out here. And he would have it would have been like? Can you imagine what

Jeez. As a dingo trapper? about him now, Tim, Well, we know a lot more than we did before we arrived. ever imagine knowing, John, That's right. More than I could Well, that's true. before I came here, but... he was a thorough gentleman. We know he was a trapper and we know That's right. Anyway. I need to know more. (LAUGHS) I don't know whether

All right. Sleep well, Bot. Sleep well. Exactly. Bot. 'Next, after six weeks on the road, we're on the last leg of our northern odyssey.'

Yeah, that's a python, Tim, is it? It is, John. Let's just be a bit careful. All right. 'We reach a land of massive tides massive wealth and massive dilemmas.' one of Australia's Should we be developing last truly remote and wild areas? 'Dinosaurs once trod these parts.' What? Pterodactyl? Boom, boom, boom. Pause. 'Now the relentless march of man is leaving far greater imprints.' The damage just totally blows out what you've come to enjoy. till you destroy the last frontier.' 'Tim and I forge on as we investigate Closed Captions by CSI

to the nation, saying he Minister has made a televised address Government is financial crisis. The Federal