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(generated from captions) of our pet story special. That brings us to the end If you want more info, Hope you've enjoyed it. what you think in our guest book. visit our website or let us know We'll see you next time. Closed Captions by CSI This Program is Captioned Live. # Theme music Welcome to Big Ideas, I'm Waleed Aly. Canada's wisdom-seeking wanderer. On the show today - as a rare combination Wade Davis has been described of scientist, scholar, poet

of all life's diversity. and passionate defender

at the Melbourne Writers' Festival, At a highly memorable session talks about his career this leading anthropologist most exotic cultures seeking out the world's his best-selling book and the ideas behind Why Ancient Wisdom Matters. explorer-in-residence, Nowadays he's National Geographic's

which is nice work if you can get it. at the Melbourne Writers' Festival. He spoke to journalist Miriam Cosic I'll give you a little background. I was an explorer-in-residence You know, Miriam mentioned at the National Geographic -

it sounds like an oxymoron. as it entered its second century The Geographic, ten years ago, what it was going to be kinda asked itself was to tell you about the world, and if the first century that in its second century it decided, quite sincerely, it would help you save the world.

conservation, in a major way. And they embraced, as an institution, from around the world And they recruited personify that new mission. seven or eight people that would Bob Ballard who found the Titanic, So Jane Goodall for primatology, the great oceanographer. Sylvia Earle, as a Canadian to be recruited And I was very fortunate as their social anthropologist, the most disturbing phenomenon really to deal with one of of our age that in the year that you were born and that is the fact spoken on earth there were 7,000 languages aren't being taught to children. and today half of those where, by any definition, So we're living through an era social, legacy of humanity half of the intellectual, spiritual, has been lost in a generation. And this doesn't have to happen. what could we do about it? And so the question is, in the realm of biodiversity And, you know, with high species endemism if you identify an area you can make a protected area, a rainforest park of the mind. but you can't make You can't sequester people in time. we could address the dilemma So the thought we had is the best way way they viewed and valued culture, was to try to help people change the not through politics, politicians never lead us anywhere because, as you well know, because polemics are never persuasive and not through polemics, can change the world. but storytellers this incredible opportunity And so I was given of 250 million people a month to take our global audience the ethnosphere - to places in what I was calling as the cultural web of life I defined the ethnosphere that surrounds the planet. The human legacy and dreams and ideas and myths or the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions and inspirations by the human imagination brought into being since the dawn of consciousness to take our audience and I was given the opportunity to points in the ethnosphere, the exotic other not simply to celebrate the discourse of anthropology which is too often metaphorically but rather to evoke so beautiful, adaptations that are so dazzling, but lead you so elegant that it can't help to a new appreciation of culture. I sailed throughout Polynesia So, for example,

on the Hokule'a - with the Polynesian Voyaging Society a reconstituted catamaran based on the ancient sacred canoes that is, you know, ten centuries before Christ, that allowed the Polynesians, across a quarter of the planet, to spread a single culture sphere when European sailors, you know, at a time for fear of the open ocean, of continents were hugging the shores oceanic trade system set up the Polynesians had a massive about the nature - based on intuitions empirical observations I mean just direct as to the nature of the sea. for example, I mean these were sailors, who even today can sense the presence beyond the visible horizon of distant atolls of islands

the reverberation of waves just by watching across the hull of a vessel, every island group in the Pacific knowing full well that refractive pattern has its own unique with the same perspicacity that can be read would read a fingerprint. with which a forensic scientist Or we went to Tibet of the mind, to look at the Buddhist science pursuit of the truth what is science, but the empirical but 2,500 years and what is Tibetan Buddhism as to the nature of mind? of direct observation of sacred geography. In Peru we looked at notions I mean, what does it really mean the earth is alive, resonant, when a people believe that reciprocal obligations to it? and that they have as I was, How is it that a kid from Canada, that a mountain is a pile of rock raised to believe relationship to the natural world can have a different than a kid of Peru and the Andes,

same mountain is an Apu spirit, raised to believe that that that will direct his destiny? We went up to the Northern Territory on the Dreamtime and Songlines and we made a wonderful film expression of our purpose and I think that was the ultimate of anthropology in that the great revelation actually, in our generation, comes from genetics of our being. and a journey to the centre to be true over the last decade And geneticists have proven it always have hoped to be true something that philosophers brothers and sisters. and that is that we're all in the spirit of hippy ethnography. And I don't mean that

cut from the same genetic cloth. We are quite literally in the male lineage Studies of the Y chromosome

in the female lineage and mitochondrial DNA

that race is a fiction. have left no doubts whatsoever We are all descendents of a handful of people who walked out of Africa 60,000 years ago and over 2,500 human generations

this remarkable diaspora that lasted 40,000 years we carried the human spirit to every corner of the planet. And the first people we know who walked out of Africa ended up in Australia.

And against enormous odds, in a remarkably short period of time, roughly 5,000 years, crossing the underbelly of Africa they arrived in this most parsimonious of continents and then they went walking. And over the course of generations they established 10,000 clan territories that were spread like a matrix across this entire continent. And when the British arrived in Australia they were shocked by what they saw - people that looked strange, had simple technology. And what deeply offended the British is that the Australian Aboriginal civilisation had never embraced the cult of progress. And progress and self-improvement, of course, was the ethos of 18th and 19th Century British life. An idea that of course died dramatically in the blood of Flanders in the Great War which is what this other book's about. But nevertheless was very much alive at that moment of cultural contact and so when the the British looked at the Aboriginal people and saw that they didn't try to improve upon their lot, they, in their inimitable British way, concluded that the Aboriginal people were savages. They began to shoot them. And as recently as 1902 in Australia

it was debated as to whether Aboriginal people were human beings, in Parliament. And what the British failed to understand is that the idea of the civilisation of Australia was such a subtle devotional philosophy and that was the Dreaming. And the Dreaming wasn't about a dream, it was about a multi-dimensional state of reality in which past, present and future were one and the same and in not one of the 670 languages or dialects of Australia was there a word for past, present or future or a word for time. The entire ethos of the civilisation was the antithesis of the European model. The whole purpose of life was not to improve upon anything. It was all about stasis, constancy, conservance of nature. The entire purpose of life was to live within your own clan territory with absolute and total fidelity to a spirit of place doing only the ritual gestures necessary to maintain the earth exactly as it was

at the time of the Rainbow Serpent. It would be as if all of European intellectual thought

since the Renaissance or since the Greeks had got - since the Bible, actually - had gone into maintaining the Garden of Eden exactly as it was, pruning the shrubs, so it would be just as it was at the time of Adam and Eve's fateful conversation. And the fascinating thing from an anthropological perspective is not to say who's right and who's wrong. Had the human spirit followed that devotional impulse, yes, we wouldn't have put a man on the moon.

On the other hand we wouldn't be talking about global climate change. And that's really the lesson of all the work

and what the book the Wayfinders distills is a central revelation of anthropology, which is the other peoples of the world are not failed attempts at being you or failed attempts at being modern. On the contrary, they're unique answers to a fundamental question - what does it mean to be human and alive? And when the peoples of the world answer that question, they do so in 7,000 different voices and those voices collectively, and those answers collectively, become our overall human repertoire for dealing with the challenges that will confront us all

as a unique species over the ensuing millennia. So when we lose a culture, we lose a part of ourselves. And it does not have to happen. We have this idea that these cultures that are slipping away are somehow destined to do so, as if by natural laws, as if they are failed attempts at being modern. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. In every case, these are dynamic living peoples being driven out of existence by identifiable forces. You know, whether those forces are egregious industrial decisions, ideological, ranging from the dominance of Tibet

by the Marxist Socialists of Beijing, the materialists of Mao, or, in fact, the cult of modernity in the modern development paradigm. So the observation that these people are not destined to fade away but are rather being driven out of existence is actually an optimistic one because it suggests that if we are the agents of cultural destruction we can also be the facilitators of cultural survival.

And the idea is not to freeze people in time like some kind of zoological specimen, but to find a way that all peoples of the world can benefit from the genius of modernity

without that engagement implying the death of their ethnicity because if there is another lesson of anthropology it's that culture is not trivial. It's not decorative. It's not the songs we sing, the prayers we utter, the clothes we wear. It's fundamentally about a body of ethical, moral values that we place around the individual to keep at bay the barbaric heart that history teaches us lies within all of us. You know, it's culture that allows us to make sense of sensation.

As Lincoln said, 'To seek the better angels of our nature.' And if you want to know what happens when culture's lost and people torn from the constraints of tradition are flung into an uncertain world of alienation and disaffection you just have to look at Somalia, East Congo, you know, the Butt Naked brigades of Liberia. So this is not really an issue of nostalgia and certainly not romanticism. It is an issue of human rights but it's really an issue of geo-political stability and survival. (Audience laughs) Wow! something about your own life and what led you into these interests, but just before we leave this topic, one of the things I found fascinating about Wayfinders - and you mentioned that the Hoka-loo-ah and the...

The Hokule'a. ..Hokule'a, and the Polynesian voyagers, which I find the most fascinating of them all, really - but, although it was written elegiacilly and beautifully, it wasn't permeated with that sense of nostalgia. It really had a sense of now. And you mentioned romanticism, and nostalgia, and so much of what we used to read had this idea of the 'ideal savage', and then of course, into the contemporary world, post-Malinowski,

the idea of immersion and dialogue with other cultures, but when you talk about keeping cultures - what we can do now is keep the cultures alive, and help people to see their way through - I'm curious really to know how. I mean, it sounds wonderful, but the clash of modernity with traditional cultures has been really violent on so many levels. How do we do that?

Well, first of all, we have to - cultural myopia has been the curse of humanity. All cultures are fiercely loyal to their own interpretations of reality. Most Indian groups, if you translate their name, it means 'the people', and the implication is that the other blokes are, you know, savages beyond the pale. The word 'barbarian' comes from the Greek, 'barbarus' - one who babbles - if you didn't speak Greek, you didn't exist. But the Aztecs had the same idea in Nahuatl. That kind of cultural myopia, which has been the source of so much conflict and pain, is something that we can't afford in an integrated world.

We're not talking about freezing people in time. We're asking, 'What kind of world do we want to live in as we move forward? How do we find a way that all people can benefit from the genius of modernity without losing their roots in ethnicity?' So this is still It's totally a question of progress. And in fact, what's fascinating, is that in the same way that we've come to appreciate biological diversity, we're coming to appreciate cultural diversity, and it's happening all around the world. We're realising that, you know, the indigenous people don't threaten the nation state, they contribute to it if the state's prepared to accept diversity. I mean, Canada, for example.

When I grew up, Inuit people were treated like second class citizens, because again, the British failed to understand that there was no better measure of genius than the ability to survive in the Arctic on a technology that's limited to what you could carve from bone. And now, we have Nunavut, in Canada, which is a territory half the size of Western Europe, given back to the Inuit people who administer it completely,

and that's become not a symbol of shame in Canada, but a symbol of celebration. I remember, I do a lot of work in Columbia, and went I first went to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the most incredible complex of cultures - the Elder Brothers, these are the descendants of the ancient Tairona civilisation which carpeted the Caribbean coastal plain, and in the wake of the conquest, the descendants were treated in this isolated volcanic massif that soars to 20,000 feet. And in the blood stained continent, they were never conquered by the Spanish they remained ruled to this day by ritual priesthood. The training for the priesthood is astonishing. The acolytes are taken away from their families with the acquiescence of the family at the age of two and three

and then sequestered in a shadowy world of darkness for 18 years. Two nine year periods deliberately chosen to mimic the nine months of gestation they spend in their natural mothers' womb. Now they're metaphorically in the belly of the great mother. And for that entire time they are inculturated in the values of the society, which maintain the literal concrete belief that their prayers and rituals maintain the cosmic balance.

And at the end of that initiation, the kid, who's - he's not in the darkness the whole time but he's always in the environs of the men's circle - he's suddenly taken a pilgrimage to the heart of the world and he goes up to these incredibly stunning beautiful ice-capped peaks

and as he's moving through landscapes, seeing the world in all its beauty for the first time at the age of 18, the priest who has trained him says,

'you see, it's like I've told all these years, it's that beautiful.' You must protect it. Now, talk about talk about a way of getting an environmental ethos into a culture. But when I first went to live with those people in 1974,

people in Bogota would say to me (Speaks Cachaco) Why do you want to live with the dirty people? Now, the last five Colombian presidents, as a first act of office have been to pay homage to the Sacerdote and the Mamos because the people have emerged as a symbol of continuity in a country that has been conflicted with the drug wars and so on.

So all around the world people are recognising this obvious fact that you know, I mean - People often ask me,

why does it matter if these cultures disappear, why does it matter to someone in Melbourne if some tribe in Africa disappears, well, you know the answer is probably nothing, but what does it matter to that tribe in Africa if Melbourne disappears? Nothing. But wouldn't the world be a weaker place were either event to happen? I mean, how many people with see a Monet painting in an art gallery? How many people will hear a Mozart symphony performed by an orchestra? Does that mean that the world wouldn't be a weaker place

if those artists didn't exist? Part of this is just a basic sense of wonder and poetry, what kind of world do you want to live in? I grew up in Canada when Toronto was known as the city of the good. And you're only food choice was three different types of pork chops. Now you go to Toronto there are 126 languages in our hospitals. You can go to any corner of Toronto and find another universe of cultural reality. Its the most exciting, diverse - I mean its just a bizarrely wonderful city now because of our immigration policy and this is another little pet peeve - I'm not generally anti-America, but - You're a Canadian.

I'm a Canadian, so you can't really be. But I remember I was on - there's this show called Anderson Cooper 360, which is one of these hysterical CNN shows and it was the end of the year wrap up, it was me and Arianna Huffington, we were supposed to pontificate about the fate of the world and, of course, all we were there was to be a foil for their own hysteria. And as they got around to the issue of immigration,

they pounced on me like a hawk, 'cause I was the anthropologist. 'Dr Davis, what should we do, Mexicans coming across the border (trails off).' And I just took a beat and I said, 'learn Spanish'. What are you going to do, you know? And Canada is the opposite, Canada is so wonderful. We had a great Prime Minister called Pierre Trudeau, who was - you were asking me how I became an anthropologist, can I jump to question? Yeah, jump to that question. Consider it asked. I grew up in Quebec at a time when the French and English didn't speak to each other. It was a dark time in Canadian history and it lead to real violence, we had martial law in Montreal in 1974, we had murders, it was a little bit like in Ireland.

And we had a wonderful Prime Minister who said 'screw it, I'm sick of this.' And the way he dealt with it was to dilute the problem by making our country officially multicultural

and throwing open the borders to all educated people from all around the world. So, today in Toronto, half of Torononians were born outside of Canada. Vancouver, almost half of Vancouvrerites were born outside of Canada. And it's only made Canada a better place and - MEETS PART 3 When I was a little boy I grew up in an anglophone community that was plunked like a carbuncle on the back of an old traditional French village. And my mum would send me to get - she smoked - and I'd go get fags for her at this corner grocery store, that was owned by a francophone couple. And I would sit there at the age of five and six and look across the Boulevard that divided the English from the French - literally divided them - and I thought, 'wow, you know, all I have to do is cross that street and there's another religion, another language, another way of life,' you know? And I was intrigued by that. And I was equally intrigued by the subtle prohibition not by my family, but from my society, about crossing that line. But fortunately I had this really wild sister ten years older than me who shattered that line by falling in love with a francophone. And as she blasted through the tsunami of cultural boundaries, I slipped in the wake and I surfed into the Francophone community

and I started hanging out there. And her boyfriend was a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. You wouldn't know this in Australia, but for a little boy in Canada, a Mountie was like Zeus, right? So my first exercise regime was to do pull-ups on his bicep, you know? And he was like my god, you know? And because of my family was really kind,

I became the one anglophone kid welcomed in the french village,

that idea that you could just cross the street and be in another world of wonder, just blew my mind. And my parents picked up on that. Then when I was 14, my dad told me that Spanish was the language of the future. And he sent me to Columbia to live with a family for 12 weeks. That was forward thinking. Hm Hmm. Yeah.

So I learnt Spanish by translating Sergeant Pepper. It'd had just come out. And everybody wanted to know, and Revolver, remember? 'Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream.' How do you translate that when you're 14-years-old? I learned Spanish very well and so then when I was in Columbia,

I fell in love with latin culture, this idea you could be there and you could have a girlfriend and the mother would know that you were the boyfriend

and you'd be dancing with the mother one moment and then necking with a girl behind the bushes and the mother would know, but not really be bothered as long as you didn't tell her, you know? That just didn't happen in Canada. And so that's really how I got my start. (Laughter) And then, then I went... I always tell kids everybody says they think life's linear

but it's always made of these serendipitous moments. That's what we have to tell our children... is not... we have to have the inner compass when you have these moments. I grew up in British Columbia and I used to fight forest fires, and during Vietnam all these American draft dodgers would come in to fight fires - the only jobs they could get. And we were these obsequious Canadian lads and they had this irreverence - they'd tell their bosses to piss off. And it was just charismatic. And one of them had Life Magazine

with the Harvard student strike of 1969 on the cover and I kind of, in this raw animalistic way thought, 'that must be the university you go to, to become cool like these guys.' I didn't even know where it was. I applied to Harvard. I got in. And then I arrived at Logan Airport in Boston and I realised I didn't know where the university was. My parents didn't have the money to come with me. And so I saw this black fellow and he had a Harvard t-shirt on. I thought, he's gotta know where the university is. He didn't know either. So then I had this big trunk - and my family didn't take taxis. So I dragged this trunk through the subway system and then I realised my mum had made a mistake and I was 2 weeks early. And the dorms weren't open yet. And so I arrived in Harvard Square in 1970, this caravansary of the insane. I mean the Hare Krishnas, the Marxist Socialists all these people on acid and everything and I didn't know what to do and so I dragged my trunk through Cambridge and I knocked on the door of a church. And this pastor took me in, but he turned out to be a major war resistor and so his basement was full of weathermen about to escape to Canada and so, that was my welcome to The United States. And then after a year of just reading about Indians in books - actually I became and anthropologist because the deadline to choose was the next day and I didn't know what I was going to major in

and I had just come out of the Peabody Museum where they have fantastic dioramas of wheat shouldered shamans and Hayden - I went up to a friend of mine on the street corner and said, 'What are you going to major in?' and he said, 'Well ethnology and ethnography,' and I said, 'What's that?' 'Well, you study about Indians.' And I was like Forest Gump and I thought, 'that sounds good.' And that's how I became an anthropologist.

And then I studied anthropology for two years and I was sick of reading about Indians in books and I was just with my room mate, who was also from the west, he was the only Harvard kid with a pick-up truck in Harvard square and we were in a cafe

and there was a National geographic map of the world right in front of our eyes and David suddenly looked at me and he looked at the map

and he pointed to the high arctic and he looked at me. I had to go somewhere, and I watched my left arm lift and hit the Amazon. Now, if I had hit Italy, I would have become a Renaissance scholar, but because I hit the Amazon - within two weeks David was in the arctic and I was in the Amazon.

And he never came back.

And but having decided to go to the Amazon, I went to see this legendary plant explorer, Richard Evans Schultes, who I wrote a book called, One River, about. And Shultes was this incredible figure - a man who sparked the psychedelic era with this incredible discovery of the magic mushrooms in Mexico in 1938 - but a man so conservative, he didn't vote for The Republican Party - he professed not to believe in the American revolution

he always voted for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He was such an anglophile that one of his colleagues said 'the only way for him to go native would be to go to England.' And I knew nothing about this history but I knew mountains in South America bore his name. And I rapped on his door and I got as far as saying,

'Sir I'm from British...' and that's all it took - that adjective

'I'm from British Columbia. I've saved up money in the logging camp and I wanna go to the Amazon like you did and collect plants.' Now in Canada, they would have thrown me out of the office - but one of the reasons I love The United States is what happened. He just looked at me across a mound of specimens, and he said - 'Well, son, when do you want to go?' And two weeks later I was in the Amazon. So that's how... anyway... And tell me something about the botany and the ethno? Because I know we were discussing before

that ethnobotany is not really your speciality anymore but it's certainly your PhD. And I'm interested in how those two words go together. One of the - people often ask - how do you, as an outsider, create relationships with a culture where you find yourself living as a guest? And the cliches that it's bravado or whatever - it's nothing of the sort - it's love.

It's empathy. And the same traits that would make me welcome in your house in Melbourne would make me welcome in a tribal society in Africa. Self-deprecating humour,

willingness to help, willingness to sleep where you put me and to eat what is put in front of me. But you always try to find a conduit to culture. What's a metaphor or the gesture that allows you to break down what is indeed an inherent barrier between yourself and the people you find yourself living with as a guest? And In the Amazon the obvious vehicle is the plants because a lot of people live by the plants. So I went to South America and also I had been studying ethnography and as a young person It's difficult to understand the nuances of Anthropology of kinship theory and all that crap, but botany was so wonderfully concrete and I'd never taken a biology course in my life. I'd never studied anything about botany but in the Amazon I just became enraptured by this realm of plants. And it was funny, I travelled 15 months and I became a part of a project to study a plant called 'The divine leaf of immortality,' coca, the source of cocaine - and I just had this amazing experience. And I carried this book - Lawrence's Taxonomy of Vascular plants and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and those were the two books I had. And you know, I just fell in love with Botany, and it because this lens through which I came to understand the world. And then I ended up getting my PhD in biology. And I remember the night when I came back to study the night I understood the Krebs cycle and photosynthesis - I got thrown out of the Science Centre at Harvard for making too much noise, because I just erupted in joy. Because photosynthesis, like, it's so incredible, you know? One of my pet peeves is scientific illiteracy. I think I almost missed a chance to be a scientist - and how impoverished that would have made me.

There's that horrible book that came out called The Secret life of Plants. You remember that one in the 70s? 'Plants like Mozart,' 'plants like you to touch them' - what a bunch of crap! I mean... a friend of mine I was with in South America, used to say

'Why would a plant give a shit about Mozart? And even if it did - why should that impress us? They can eat light, isn't that enough?' And that simple formula of photosynthesis the miracle that carbon dioxide and water sparked by photons of light, give carbohydrate and oxygen. That's what kids in Bible camp should be studying and that's the formula of life itself and I find it amazing that people don't have that...

Wonder? ..yeah, and the more you learn about science, what science tells us is so beautiful and it's so elegant. That's why I kinda can't stand the new age movement because it's credo is if I believe it, it's true. I mean, what really exists is more wondrous than anyone can imagine. Do you know about the Pilobolus mushroom? You know the Pilobolus dance group in New York? It's kind of like Cirque du Soliel, but it's modeled on this mushroom. And the mushroom -

Can I just tell a quick one? Yeah, I want to find out now. The mushroom parasitizes house flies, right?

And as it parasytizes a house fly, it causes a house fly to die on the vertical surfaces of glass and then the fungal body emerges

and it's got a little lens at the tip of it that is like an anti-aircraft gun as flies around the house the mushroom goes (buzzes) and then it shoots spores and knocks the flies out of the sky. (Scattered chuckles) I mean, I took a lot of drugs and that was better than any drug I ever took, when I heard that. So science is so amazing, so... And yet sadly our kids are so scientifically illiterate these days.

It's remarkable, isn't it? Given the era we live in. And speaking about the drugs - a one sentence answer - when you say you studied the plant that cocaine was derived from and you had an amazing time - do the two go together? Well coca became my lens both metaphorically and literally

through which I understood... ..the world But you see, to compare cocaine with coca is to compare the poisonous peroxyacetic acid in the pit of a peach with the luscious fruit of a peach. I mean, coca is the divine leaf of immortality and although efforts to eradicate the fields began 50 years before there was a problem with illicit cocaine. Nobody had ever done a nutritional study of the plant. We knew that in the Andes it was revered beyond all plants. Inca are unable to cultivate it. The elevation of the Imperial Capital of Cuzco replicated it in gold and silver leaf

in fields of coloured landscape. When we did the first nutritional study it horrified our backers at the US government, because they were paying for the research, because we found out that yes it had a small amount of the alkaloid -

half to one percent dried weight benignly absorbed through the mucus membrane of the mouth as innocuous as the caffeine in a tea bag. But it is also chock full of vitamins and it also had more calcium than any plant ever studied by science which made it perfect for a diet that lacked a diary product

particularly for young mothers. It also had enzymes that enhanced the body's abilities to digest carbohydrate at high elevation which made it perfect for the tuber-based diet of the Andes. So one simple assay, that should have been done in the 1920s before the hysteria began, we showed that this is a plant that had been used with no evidence of toxicity, let alone addiction for 4,000 years. And what became of that study, I mean, did it change... ?

It didn't change a damn thing. No. In America, are you kidding? We tried... we had a company. We were trying to get coca legalised to get people off cigarettes and to get them off coffee.

And under President Carter we were making some headway, but then Reagan came in, you know and that was that. Turn to the right. And in a minute I will ask whether you have any questions. I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about the new book because it doesn't seem to be necessarily an obvious segue from The Wayfinders. Well. No I live by Marshall McLuhan's adage that 'if it works, it's obsolete.' So the minute I get good at something I want to try something else. And I think that's an interesting kind of thing for life. We always are dragged down by wherever we are. You try to change, but the very fact you want to change dramatically - whether your career or relationship or whatever - you're surrounded by a cohort of people who like you and they like you because of exactly who you are in their moment and so you threaten them by changing.

So, I did, I went to South America I studied, I was a really precociously successful plant explorer. In fact next year, ridiculously, I'm getting the most prestigious award in botanical exploration

for the work I did 30 years ago. But then I came back and I was just sick of it, you know? For three years, well actually for almost eight years I only thought about plants. I collected thousands of specimens and I just wanted something new and I was at the right institution - The Botanic Museum at Harvard and one winter day my professor, this legendary fellow, Richard Evans Schultes, summoned me to his fourth floor aerie and just asked me casually whether I was interested in going down to the Caribbean island nation of Haiti, infiltrating the secret societies and securing the formula of a drug used to make zombies. I thought -

(Laughter) It was another Forest Gump moment. Indiana Jones. I said, 'sure'. So I thought this was going to be a lark that would take a fortnight over spring break, but it ended up consuming four years of my life. And I became the first white person initiated in the secret societies, I found the formula of the drug and it was this incredible adventure. And it was funded by a dummy foundation set up to support the research, with an unknown benefactor, but if I needed $10,000 by Thursday I just had to make a phone call to New York by Monday. Then suddenly the intellectual backer, who was a very famous scientist, who was really responsible for the creation of drugs like prozac, thorazine, all the drugs that we now use to treat psychiatric challenges. The benefactor turned out to be

the Broadway and Hollywood producer David Merrick 'cause he thought there was going to be a Hollywood movie in this. So then I - within a fortnight, Dr Kline died unexpectedly in routine heart surgery and Mr Merrick had a stroke and was out of the picture. So I went from being flush with money to having none. And I was in London and when I was 20 I guided a British journalist who had walked from the tip of South America and was walking to Alaska and I guided him across the Darien Gap, between Columbia and Panama city. Of course I wasn't a very good guide. We got lost for two weeks, with no food, in the jungle. (Laughter) But - he went insane, actually. (Laughter) He did go insane. But he wrote a terrible book, that he was very kind to me in. And I thought, well, if he can write a book, I can write a book, so I walked off the street to the literary agent, unannounced. And you know the Brits - I don't know what they do to Australians, but they like to look down their noses at Canadians.

And so I said, 'I want to be a writer'. And I told them all these stories and I told them about the zombie thing and, you know, he looked at me - 'Well, there might be something in that zombie thing.' And before I knew it I had a book advance. And then I used the book advance to finish the research - the money. But then I had to write a book and I hadn't written anything, but scientific articles and love letters, you know. So I sent two chapters to Simon and Shuster, that I thought were the best thing since the Bible and they sent it back to me and said to try again. So I left Harvard and I went to a farm in Virginia. Actually I was in Haiti

and I got malaria and hepatitis at the same time and I didn't notice for a month, 'cause I was doing the night shift in the secret society, so I was in this completely surreal space. And a friend of mine came down and saw me and I was really dying and she plunked me back to her farm in Virginia and I was suddenly in bucolic Virginia in the summer time with, I must say, a limitless supply of coca leaves, because we had - Coca Cola and our museum were the only two legal importers of coca in the country. Coke is a great writer's stimulant, not the drug, the leaf. And so I taught myself to write, I mean I had to teach myself to write. So I had lived a great experience and I never copied or plagiarised or mimicked,

but I had Hemingway for dialogue, Isak Dinesen for spirit of landscape, Lawrence Durrell, Alexandria Quartet, for evocative kind of sense of mood, T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, one of the greatest books in the English Language. And I had all of these books and I taught myself how to write and I wrote a book called The Serpent and the Rainbow that was edited in one day and it sold 500,000 copies and they made a Hollywood movie - a dreadful Hollywood movie out of it. But that's how I became a writer, you know, and then - It's quite a start. (Audience laughs) Yeah, and then I just kept doing whatever I wanted to do. Hemingway said if you sell a book in Hollywood you should start off in Arizona, drive to the California state line, throw the book over and go back to Tucson and have a drink. (Laughter)

I didn't do that, but I so hated the media attention and the - I mean, my first national TV interview - Just be careful, because you're talking to a journalist. Oh, no, no, no, no. I'm not - Watch out. My first national TV interview - I didn't have a TV and I didn't know anything about TV. I was 33 years old. I'm going up the elevator in New York and this nice woman says, 'my husband liked your book.' And I thought, 'she's very nice', you know. Then she said, 'I think he liked it too much.' And her husband was a guy called Gary Trudeau who does a comic book strip called Doonesbury and the next day he started a three week parody of the book in Doonesbury. And then I go onto the set and there's this very pompous journalist called Bryant Gumbel - I don't know who he is - and his first question was, 'I understand you're the real life Indiana Jones.' And that Geraldo Rivera had called me that on another thing. And of course if I had said, 'you're right', I could have made a million dollars, but instead I said, you know, 'I love those movies too, but, you know, TV is a tremendous force of alienation on our lives.' And I said, 'If someone out in Iowa or Ohio getting up today just to get the kids off to school really thinks there's a real life Indiana Jones, how are they gonna feel about themselves? They're just gonna feel shitty, you know.' And I said, 'Folks, I'm just like you. I have tremendous trouble with my girlfriend, I don't have any money...' - 'cause they hadn't paid me yet - '..and I don't know what I'm going to do next, but I wrote this book.' They never aired the interview.

Oh, didn't they? No. But the publicist was going nuts, but so then I - so what I did do was, I didn't go back to Tucson and have a drink I went to the forests of Borneo, 'cause I wanted to live where the people wept with the innocence of birth, I wanted to go live with the nomadic people of the rainforest, so just disappeared from all of the media hype and I lived with the nomadic Penan and ended up writing two books about them. And then I really became more of an environmental activist. And this book came about, you know, and people say it's such a departure - By the way, people, this is the Into the Silence, the one about Mallory and the great walk. What happened - this story is sort of again serendipity. I travelled 6,000 kilometres across China and Tibet in 1966 as part of something we call the Sino-American Ecological Survey, which was just a scam to get permission to go into south-east Tibet that no scientist had ever been in. And we crossed Everest just when the disaster happened that Krakauer wrote about and with me was a man called Daniel Taylor who was the son and grandson of medical missionaries and his dad had been a great friend of Howard Somervell who climbed with Mallory. And we got to Kathmandu and Daniel, like many veterans of the Himalaya was really disturbed by the consequences of the commercialisation of the mountain. And then the next fall, by chance, we went back to try to photograph clouded leopards and snow leopards on the east face of Everest in a stunningly beautiful valley called the Darma Valley. There are three approaches to Everest -

from the south the Hillary route, in the north through the Rombuk, directly to the east Rombuk glacier, but the most elegant approach is through the east to the Kangshung face because the monsoon comes up the Arun river and so you have this incredible thing where you have silver fir forests the size of red woods and massive groves of rhododendrons and azaleas.

15 miles from the base of the Kangshung face where you're standing on sold ground taller than anything in North America looking up at two vertical miles of ice. It's an incredible place. And we were there and we got stuck. To get there you have to cross one of three passes and they're very high passes and we got stuck by unusual snow, so we were just sitting there, didn't know if we were going to have to over winter there or, you know. And Daniels just started talking about these men in tweeds who read Shakespeare to the snow at 23,000 feet and I became totally enchanted. And what intrigued me about Mallory

and of course those of you who don't know it's one of the greatest mysteries of mountaineering - is that in 1921, '22 and '24 the British attempted to climb Everest and in June of 1924, Mallory at the age of 37, who was Britain's most illustrious climber, together with young Sandy Irving, who was 22, from Oxford, disappeared into the mist as they were seen going to the summit. And the big question is always - did they get to the top before they perished? And I was never interested in that question. I was interested in who the men were and why they walked to their death. And my thought from the very start was that all those climbers, I just knew because of their class and their age, had been through the blood of Flanders and my theory from the very beginning was that for these men life mattered less than the moments of being alive and that's why Mallory and all of them were prepared to accept

a degree of risk that would have been unimaginable before the war. That was sort of my working hypothesis, but I didn't know. So I sent a letter to my agent about this and it resulted in the biggest book advance in the history of any book on mountaineering. And of course the British press tripled it and then said the reason this botanist has this advance

is because somehow I'd proven that Mallory had a homosexual affair in Toronto on a book tour in 1923. If you actually do any research the only question is who at Cambridge he didn't fuck. (Laughter) I mean, but that's another issue. Excuse me, sorry. You'll probably have to delete that, sorry. Anyway. But, you know, I became so enchanted by this and of course then what happened is that three months later serendipitously a friend of mine Conrad Anker, found Mallory's body on Everest and suddenly there were eight books out by fall. And I went to Knopf, my publisher - When's this? This would be 1999 or - yeah, I think, it was May of 1999.

And so, I couldn't compete with these other books and I offered to give the advance back and Knopf is the great publishing house in the English language, it's like the dream publisher. And they were so kind, they said, 'We didn't give you all that money for a book on Mallory, we gave you all that money, because we want a book by you on Mallory, so get on with it.' And I flippantly said, 'It's gonna now take ten years.' And of course, I didn't... it turned out it took 12 years. And it took 12 years, because I had to take the level of research to a whole different level. Because of the books that were out? Well, there were all these books and the real question was was there anything new to say? And of course as it turns out there was everything new to say, because there's research and there's research. It's like Truman Capote said, 'There's writing and there's typing.' And I was able to - it was famously said at the psalm on passchendaele that the clerk power did not exist to process the numbers of dead,

but if they didn't record the dead of passchendaele in the psalm the British recorded just about everything else. I mean WWI was so completely chronicled that it's amazing they found time to fight, but it takes huge amounts of research.

But I was able to literally - the 26 men who went to Everest in those three expeditions, I was able to find out where each was every single day of WWI. And I found all these sources that no-one had found. I'll just - maybe to give you a sense of the book, it really drips with blood. Because WWI was the seminal event of the last 300 years. I mean, it birthed modernity, everything you think of in terms of nihilism, alienation, everything you think of the 20th Century came out of the collapse of civilisation that that war implied. The British front was often no longer than 85 miles, sometimes 125 miles. Behind that front were 6,000 miles of trenches, 6,000 miles of railroad, the Ypres Salient, an area of land you could walk around in a long day, was a cauldron of death in which 1.7 million bodies were destroyed. The numbers are almost meaningless, aren't they? They're meaningless. And well, but they're not. So, just to give you a sense of things, the unsung hero of this book is a Canadian - E.O. Wheeler, who later became the Surveyor General of India, he was knighted in WWII - an extraordinary man. But he's actually the one, not Mallory,

who found the route to the mountain.

See, in 1921, no European had been to the flanks of the mountain, they walked 400 miles off the map just to get there. And they had to assault it from all sides. Nepal was shut off politically, but they had to find a route, and the route was the North Col. And yet, it was not Mallory who found the route, it was this surveyor, E.O. Wheeler. And on the way to Everest in 1921, as they're marching across Tibet, a high altitude physiologist, well known doctor, a scientist called Arthur Kellas, died of exhaustion, basically, and was buried at Camp Uzong. Now, all the historians will tell you that in 1921, only Guy Bullock, who was a climbing partner of Mallory, kept a curt journal that was published in The Alpine Journal in 1962. But I found Wheeler's son in Vancouver, by chance, living five doors from the house where I was born. I went to see him - he was this wonderful old man in his late 70s. And we had this wonderful day together and at the end of which he pulled from his shelf two thick volumes that were his father's journals that he'd carried across and written in 1921. I was so breathless, I - and I was too Canadian to ask to borrow them, and - but I was - (Breathes eagerly) And then, you know, this wonderful thing happens in Canada, the conversation slips from the official to the familiar,

and it turns out he'd gone to the same boarding school as my dad at the same time, and he was part of the Geological Survey of Canada - I had actually been one of the few people

to climb a lot of the peaks that he'd surveyed. And before you know it, he's kinda like - we're all the same, because it's a small world, Canada. And just as I went to say goodbye to him he took those two journals, and he said, 'Wait, I think these'd really be helpful to you.' And I have them to this day, and I'm going to publish a book just of those journals. But in that journal, on the day that Kellas was buried at Camp Uzong, the entire entry from E.O. Wheeler is - um, 'Well, they buried the old boy in the morning, thought it was going to be the afternoon, terribly sorry to have missed it, but I do hate funerals.' How do you miss the internment of one of your companions as you're walking six men across Tibet? I mean, it's inconceivable to us, thinking of a modern expedition. So, I knew there was something more to it - well, there was. He was a Royal Engineer with the 7th Division and after the destruction of the British Expeditionary Force by the end of October of 1914, the British line was held by the Canadians, who later survived the - mounted a suicidal defence with the first gas attacks. But to the south, the British line was held by the Indian army - sepoys. And by that point the topography of Armageddon had come into form - the trench lines existed, and both sides had begun to sap each other, you know, perpendicular trenches,

close to the enemy lines so you could lob bombs over, you could raid. And it came to the attention of Wheeler's battalion that the Germans had put two saps within 30 feet of their front line.

He was given the order to go over the top, and not only push and bury the saps, but to do so in a way that would dissuade the Germans from trying this again. They go over the top, all hell breaks loose - Very lights, machine gun fire, artillery. And they find to their horror

that the saps are full of Germans about to raid them. The result is the most ferocious hand-to-hand combat that would turn your stomach - eyes gouged out, ears ripped out, heads - you know, three-foot streams of blood out of helmets, I mean, just -

And by the end, the Indians pushed the Germans back. The entire trench line is lined with dying boys of both sides, which Wheeler described 'like trout'.

And he's then got the order that he must bury the sap.

So, he tries to get his wounded out but he can't get them all out. So, he has to bury his own boys alive. So, in Tibet, when he says, 'I do hate funerals.' - Oh. So, this book is just full of that kind of stuff. You know, it takes every one of the lives of these incredible men,

and what they endured - and, you know, it's important because all of your grandfathers and fathers,

especially Aussies - there's big sections of Gallipoli here because General Bruce was cut down at Gallipoli. And there's also - on a lighter note, there's a really unsung hero - I always like to stiff it to the British a bit, you know. So, Mallory hated Canadians. So, that got my goat. (Audience laughter) But also, there was one Aussie who was the real hero. George Finch, incredible man, the finest ice climber in the world. And in 1921, he and Mallory were gonna be the climbing team. Two weeks before they sail, they said these men had to have medical tests

by the Harley Street doctors. Mallory passes and Finch doesn't pass. He then is thrown off the expedition. And yet, a week later in the decompression chambers at Cambridge, he proves himself to be the fittest person of his generation, and that very summer he goes on to set height records in the Alps. So of course, the literature always said, well, 'the Brits - ' because he was an Aussie.

But that would have implied that a man called Sandy Wollaston, a naturalist and the doctor of the expedition, would be corrupt, and he was an impeccable man. So, what was going on? So I look at the medical reports, and actually, the reports on that day, March 17th, 1921, all the doctors really say is he looked like shit. His complexion sallow, not eating very much, pretty wasted. So, I though, this is interesting - Hangover? No, it was even better than that. I found in the court records - you see, Finch was this great character, and he had gotten engaged to a woman, Gladys, who was an actress, you know, and she was pretty, he was a soldier, they had nothing more in common, but that was enough. They got married, and his address was No Man's Land. And he goes off to the war, but then he hears, when he's in Salonika front, that she's dying. He gets compassionate leave, he goes back to London, and finds that not only is she not dying, she's healthy and has a baby that clearly was born after he'd gone. So, he goes to France, beats the shit out of the cuckold, and then almost gets court martialled,

then she pledges allegiance, he goes back to the war, everything's fine, but then, she's straying again, he can tell. Meanwhile, he's fallen in love with a nurse, right, and Gladys May. So then, the first son became the actor, Peter Finch, right? And so, he gave this boy his name, but he wasn't of his blood.

Then he falls in love with Gladys May, right, but then as soon as his divorce from the first woman is realised, he marries the second woman, who's by this point pregnant with a boy that is his boy, but now, by this point, he's fallen in love with Bubbles... (Laughter) ..who's a third woman. His own family doesn't know there was a second wife - and so, he then is back in England, and she's gone to court, and the judge has ordered him back to the bed of the woman he disdains,

who's about to give birth to a child of his blood, even as he's looking after a boy that's not of his blood, from another woman, and he's trying to marry this third woman. And I found out that the way a gentleman got out of an entanglement like that was public adultery. And so, I found out that on the very day of the medical exam, he was scheduled to commit adultery with a prostitute at the Strand Hotel. And so, it's no wonder - he had a lot on his mind.

(Uproarious laughter) And so, in the book, I said it's no wonder his complexion was sallow. You know? His mood was bleak, I mean, and no-one even knows that, you know, like, his family didn't even know that. All you had to do was go to the divorce court records

of High Holborn Street, but no-one - I'm gonna have to stop you there. OK. Sorry. First - because if you tell us any more, there'll be no reason to get the book. But, but I'll tell you that Finch - Finch - Finch, if he hadn't - I just have to tell you this. Finch, George Finch, the Aussie - you can't believe the impediments they put in his way. He nevertheless, in 1922, when they couldn't deny him a place on the expedition,

he was forced to climb with Geoffrey Bruce, the distant cousin of the general, who had never been on a mountain,

and they went higher than Mallory and Moorshead and Somervell, and if he hadn't saved Bruce's life, George Finch would've been the first man on the top of Everest. Anthropologist, Wade Davis, with Miriam Cosic at the recent Melbourne Writers' Festival. And that's it for today's Big Ideas. Don't forget, talks from all the best smart people can be found at our fabulous new website. And if you want to know what's on, when and where, follow us on Twitter. I'm Waleed Aly. See you next time. Closed Captions by CSI


Cracow is one of the oldest and largest cities of Poland. This historic and cosmopolitan city dates back to the fourth century and is now home to some 1. 3 million people. Close to the Vistula River, it was the capital of Poland until 1596. Our wonder is not far from the centre of Cracow. This is the chapel of the Blessed Kinga, the patron saint of Polish miners. Started at the Wieliczka salt mines in 1896, everything here is carved out of salt by miners,

including the walls, floor and statues. Incredibly, figures of saints and the classical architecture around them are all carved by the miners themselves from pure salt.

Even the chandelier, again, all fashioned from salt crystals, not by an artist but by the miners in their place of work to cast light on their saints, perhaps to help them in their dangerous work underground. Commercial salt production in Wieliczka stopped 10 years ago but one part of the mine is still being used by mineralogists. It takes an hour-long walk deep underground to get there. 327 metres deep, the mine has caverns and tunnels that stretch for over 300km. Salt was precious, the bedrock of Poland's economy for centuries. It took huge efforts to extract but the miners still found time to celebrate this invaluable commodity with their carvings.

These incredible translucent salt crystals look like precious gems and to Poland, indeed they were, for at its height, salt production accounted for around 30%

of Poland's gross national product. Closed Captions by CSI

This Program is Captioned


Now for the Senate - the

Government's carbon tax bills

gets some clear air in the

Lower House The result of the

division is ayes 74, noes 72.

The question is therefore

resolved in the

affirmative. These bills as

amended have been agreed to

Hear, hear! A flotilla of ship

be containers joins the oil menacing the Queensland

coastline There are tugs

shadowing those containers to

the best extent they can. The

United States says it has

uncovered a plot to assassinate

a top Saudi diplomat. The complainant alleges this