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Great Southern Land

If you really want to see how Australia works there's only one way -from above, in ABC's new documentary series.

If you really want to see how Australia works there’s only one way -from above.

So says ABC1’s Great Southern Land, a four part documentary that rises high above our big red land with a bird’s eye view of where we live, the natural resources we rely on and the networks that keep us alive.

It all begins from high atop the Snowy Mountains, NSW, as our host Professor Steve Simpson explains the basics of the Snowy River Scheme and its powerful hydroelectricity. The first episode, Great Australian Bite, zeros in on Food and Power.

Simpson is the Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, and this is his television debut. From the opening scenes it’s clear he has a passion for explaining biology, but it is his enthusiasm that quickly engages us as a storyteller.

From the Snowy Mountains we sweep across to Melbourne to meet a “barehander,” a bloke who risks his life everyday working on live power wires. Protected only by a stainless steel fibre suit he fixes faults in a live electricity network on a hot summer’s day. He tells us there are half a million volts racing around his body, yet he loves his job. Freaky stuff.

From there it’s off to a power station in the Hunter Valley and coal workers underground. Near Ararat in country Victoria 35 wind turbines dot the horizon harnessing enough energy to power 26,000 households a year. Simpson flies in a glider above the giant windmills, in one of the show’s more exhilarating moments. Sadly, we learn, wind turbines only generate 2% of our country’s annual energy.

More aerial snapshots take place above Tasmania, as ‘rainmakers’ dangerously fly into storm clouds to seed them with iodine in order to generate enough hydropower below. Simpson joins a parachuter above Roma in Queensland to fly down over burning cane fields. Where’s that Gangajang song when you need it? This is Australia.

The irrigation of the Murray-Darling also features in this first episode.

The Food chapter follows a simple premise: what does it take to make a hamburger? Apparently a lot of cultivating of the ingredients. There are wheat fields and harvesting in southern NSW, beetroot farms in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, tomatoes in green houses in Two Wells, South Australia, and cattle farms in the Darling Downs, Queensland.

Capturing this all with sweeping shots, lilting music and a charismatic storyteller, one is reminded that this world works silently right under our noses. But from above Great Southern Land gives it a wonderful perspective.

My only regret is that we won’t be watching it all in high definition.

Otherwise, this is inspired stuff from producers Cordell Jigsaw and Professor Steve Simpson is set to become a reluctant new ABC star.

Great Southern Land premieres 7:30pm September 23 on ABC1.

5 Responses

  1. I don’t care if it’s HD or not. The ads look great. I’m glad it is on Sunday 7.30pm technically nine days from now. I was hoping it’d be on then i.e. the day and time. So excellent choice I look forward to it.

  2. That series sounds fantastic. I’ll definitely be watching that.
    I agree it’s a shame ABC1 isn’t in High Def and the ABC waste that function on their dreary 24hr News service. Such a waste as nothing on the news channel is shot in HD anyway. In fact most times it’s shot in less than SD.
    So many fabulous ABC1 dramas and documentaries could be so much better in HD. I wish the ABC would address this.

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