The Australian outback is no place for the uninitiated. But this harsh environment possesses the resources to sustain those who respect it – or more accurately, those who dare to eat it as we learn in Ray Mears Goes Walkabout.
In Ray Mears Goes Walkabout, we join a man who has devoted his life to respecting the outdoors, as he recreates the journey of the first explorer to traverse Australia from south to north. Along the way, Ray tells some great outback stories, meets one of his heroes and tries his hand at Aboriginal art (don't adjust your TV sets – it is all supposed to be that orange – yes, even Ray).
Like a tanned time traveller (Doctor Who eat your heart out), Ray puts a few misguided assumptions to bed – namely that it was in fact William Dampier, not Captain Cook, that discovered the piece of land that would become Australia (or New Holland as it was originally known) and a continent in its own right. But it isn't just buccaneers that Ray is interested in – he wants to know about the guys on foot (with shoes on we hope – think of the blisters!) forcing their way through unknown lands.
So who is this great explorer that Ray is stalking? None other than John McDouall Stuart who is regarded as Australia's finest inland explorer. British-born (a Pomme to the Aussies), he fell in love with Oz while working as a surveyor. Despite a delicate constitution, he developed an acute affinity with the bush, conducting several explorations of the interior. In 1862, after two previous attempts (we dread to think what went wrong), Stuart led the first expedition to cross the continent from south to north. The gruelling trip took nine months. And, once they had reached the northern coast, the team had to turn around and make their way home. Tragically, although all members of the party survived the epic journey, Stuart's sight failed and he became seriously ill during the return leg. His health was ruined and he died aged just 50.
As well as delving deep into the life of Stuart, making this series also allowed Ray to meet one of his heroes, Les Hiddins. Les comes from the land Down Under and is known to millions of Australians as the Bush Tucker Man. A former soldier who served in Vietnam, Les became a survival expert and adviser to Australian special forces (he would probably invite you in for a Vegemite sandwich given the chance). His acclaimed television series, Bush Tucker Man, demonstrated how it was possible to survive in the outback if you learned to live in harmony with the land. We'll stick to watching the show if it's all the same to you Les.
For Walkabout, Ray and Les trek through Queensland, Les's home state. Most people would run a mile at the thought of quick sand, crocodiles, blistering heat, killer spiders and whatever else is in the cocktail of killers that makes up the Australian outback, but not these two intrepid explorers. They feast on freshwater mussels, retell the story of Captain Cook and swap survival tips – as if discussing which tupperware box would best befit a cake. They also remember to take a few photos and talk to the camera – which, if we're honest, would be the last thing we'd remember to do when faced with the prospect of fatal dehydration and poisonous snakes. It's a meeting of two like-minded souls, clearly.
It's not all about the harsh conditions though. Ray learns a lot about the history of the aborigines – most notably through their art work and learns about the earliest travellers through their detailed journals. In true Mears spirit he also points out a few of their mistakes – well it's his name in the title ah! Let's just hope Ray packed his factor 50…