BY BILLY SUTER
MARTIN Clunes, star of TV’s popular Doc Martin series, is on a quest to explore the islands of Australia in a new, three-part documentary series, Martin Clunes and the Islands of Australia, that starts on DStv’s ITV Choice (channel 123) at 7pm on Sunday, August 20.
With more than 8000 islands to choose from, Martin visits 16 which provide a fascinating insight into the diversity, history and challenges of island life in Australia, says an ITV spokesman.
“I’m on an 8000-mile odyssey right around the continent, to discover what these far-flung places tell us about Australia and its people,” Clunes explains.
“Each island is a microcosm that tells us something different about our world. Australia’s islands have it all: exotic creatures, spectacular marine life, and of course the different people who inhabit them.
“Whether they’re relative newcomers or they’ve lived there for generations, these are the resourceful, extraordinary people who call these islands home. This is my voyage around the adventure playgrounds, the best-kept secrets and the astonishing surprises of the Islands of Australia.”
Among the more interesting islands he travels to is Restoration Island, where Clunes meets Dave Glasheen, a modern-day Robinson Crusoe. A high-flying businessman with a big mansion in Sydney. he was ruined in a stock market crash in 1993 and gave it all up for a life of self-sufficiency and solitude.
Clunes also visits The Tiwi Islands, where there are 3500 Tiwis. They’ve been there for millennia, and are one of Australia’s most distinctive Aboriginal cultures.
Thanks to their isolation from the mainland, the Tiwis have kept many ancient traditions alive. They treat Clunes to a welcome of traditional yoi dancing to ensure he has only friendly spirits around him while he’s on the islands.
The Abrolhos Islands are also on the itinerary. Clunes says they are like nowhere else. They’re a strange mix of ghostly memories, ecologically sound crayfishing, and a beautiful watery wilderness.
“More than anything, it feels like a frontier: if Australia really does have a Wild West, surely this is it.”
Also on the itinerary is a stop on King Island, in the blustery Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia, which bears the brunt of the fearsome Trade Winds from South America, and its shores are littered with one of the highest concentrations of shipwrecks in Australia.
Here Clunes meets Stephanus Pretorius (surely an ex-South African?), one of several resourceful islanders who make a living out of the bounty provided by the wild seas.
Clunes concludes: “Throughout my incredible journey people have constantly asked me what’s my favourite Australian island? So I think back to the kaleidoscope of landscapes I’ve seen: forests, lagoons, rivers and waterfalls. I recall the incredible diversity of creatures I’ve encountered on land and in the sea. And I remember all the wonderful people I’ve met, and the warmest of welcomes so many have given me.
“But you can’t just put one island in a race against another, it just doesn’t work like that. But I do know this, if you take a group of people, whether they were born on an island or they blew in, and you put them together, then something happens.
“And because this is Australia it happens in a uniquely Australian way. You get a community of hard-working, tenacious people, all looking out for each other, proud of their communities, proud of their island, and if a problem occurs, then it has to be dealt with because you can’t walk away.”