To most people, fronting a travel documentary sounds like a dream job.
But while he’s certainly not complaining, Martin Clunes explains that filming Islands of Australia is anything other than a holiday.
“There’s no holiday. I go to places where other people are having holidays!” he laughs.
The Doc Martin star visited 16 islands from one side of the country to the other for the Seven series. As a co-production between his own company Buffalo Pictures and Prospero Productions, he wasn’t afraid to get his hands ‘dirty.’
“There’s the journey to and from, gear to unload, heavy film equipment, on and off planes, then onto vehicles. It’s an odyssey. We split it into 2 week blocks so I could keep going home. But that meant when we worked we really worked, no days off. Everyday was either shooting or travelling,” he says.
“There’s 25 to 30 pieces and then the personal luggage on the carousel, and with a tiny crew I can’t queen it off and say ‘I’m the presenter I’m not carrying anything!’ Only the cameraman gets to not carry anything!
“It would be a bad look if I went and sat on a chair.
“They are long hours, but it’s just normal work.”
Documentaries are nothing new to Clunes, who has fronted projects such as A Lion Called Mugie, The Lemurs of Madagascar, A Man and his Dogs and Islands of Britain.
“It’s not my day job, but I suppose I have done a few now. They used to make me nervous, but now I’d hate it if they took them away from me,” he admits.
“It’s the perfect complement. I’m not a professional presenter so I wouldn’t be interested in presenting something I’m not interested in. So I couldn’t do it without enthusiasm.
“I started with the animals but people are just as interesting.”
“I fell in love with the Norfolk Pine”
In the first episode he visited Lord Howe, Norfolk, Restoration Islands and the Torres Straits.
“I got really excited when we flew over the pointy end at the top of Australia –because it is a pointy end! So it was photo here, photo there!” he recalls.
“The Torres Straits was exciting because it has a geographical and historical significance. Bligh and Cook all went through that water.
“The racial harmony and all the blow-ins are all accepted as part of the community. Islanders are very different to anyone else on mainland Australia.
“I fell in love with the Norfolk Pine. I find them absolutely breathtaking. Since I’ve been home and not seeing them, my clever wife bought me one as an anniversary gift.
“We only planted it last week! He’s about 5 foot high.”
Whilst the series isn’t designed as a traditional ‘travelogue’ Clunes happily recommends islands to the east of Australia for those wanting a ‘picture postcard’ setting.
“Norfolk or Lord Howe are your idea of tropical islands but both are very different in terms of atmosphere. Lord Howe is very low key and they limit the number of tourists. Norfolk is a full-on welcoming (destination).
“The highlight was swimming with a whale shark. But I fell in love with a dingo, I met a Tasmanian devil, I saw a quoll –and I didn’t even know there was such a thing.
“And I really liked the vibe on Phillip Island. We stayed in the loveliest guest house with my family, but the sad thing was I couldn’t have a holiday!”
“Rottnest freaked me out a little bit”
In the remaining two episodes he visits Muiron, Tiwi, Abrolhos, Rottnest, Mundoo, Phillip and Maria islands.
“Rottnest freaked me out a little bit because I learned about is present and its history at the same time. It’s a funny match –there are no waterslides in Auschwitz. But I had a personal (reaction) because I didn’t see it as an Australian mess, I saw it as a British disgrace,” he explains.
“But it’s a really pretty island and I can see it’s a lovely place to bring your family. As I said in the (series) I hope people keep on doing that, but maybe find out a little bit more about what went on. It was really bad.
“The Tiwi Islands are amazing. For an outsider it’s hard to get your head around the case of Indigenous people and the functionality of their lives. There is an awful lot of sadness and bad stories, but up in the Tiwis I spent time with people managing to keep their traditional ways alive, and functioning in the 21st century.
“Aussie Rules seemed to be the glue. They are keeping their old ways alive alongside all of that. And I hadn’t expected that. I was gobsmacked.”
Martin Clunes: Islands of Australia airs 8:30pm Fridays on Seven.