I had originally expected Magical Land of Oz to be a documentary to showcase Australian marsupials -after all that’s our unique nature selling point to the world.
In fact this 3 part nature series from Northern Pictures / Oxford Scientific Films charts much broader terrain. Whether marsupial or otherwise, 80% of our animal life is found nowhere else in the world. So expect to see fish, birds, insects, reptiles and mammals in episodes titled Oceans, Land and Human Shift (the final episode showcases animals dealing with human impact on their turf).
On your HD television this is a feast for the eyes and ears, the kind of doco you would expect from the BBC, who as it happens has co-commissioned with ABC. Settle in on the couch for a night of captivating aerial shots, orchestral music, and fascinating natural history.
Barry Humphries is an inspired narrator choice, with his mellifluous voice theatrically drawing you in as if he is reading from a grand nature storybook. I suppose he is.
Our stories get underway at Red Bluff, WA, as Dusky sharks herd thousands of sardines into a baitball of food. The aerial shots make this look a canvas in motion and there are curious boarders nearby. No they are not mad, Dusky sharks are normally not man-eaters.
At Pearson Island 60 km off SA, life can be lonely for Australian sealion pups awaiting food from their mother. Adopting pure Attenborough style the doco manages to turn a pup into a character, embellished with emotion from Humphries (although there is a script tendency to also tell us what we can see with our own eyes).
In Spencer Gulf, SA, giant cuttlefish resplendent in rainbow colours are in mating season and it’s a battle between males to reproduce with fertile females. That cameras have captured this rare sight is impressive. Similarly a display of cannibalising spider crabs in Port Phillip Bay is like accessing the prehistoric unknown right under our noses.
On Cabbage Tree Island tiny Gould’s Petrel chicks face unbelievable hurdles before their inaugural flight. I won’t spoil it for you but survival instinct kicks in, just as it does for a documentary makers’ favourite, newly-born sea turtles trying to make it to sea in the Great Barrier Reef.
There are also scenes with whale sharks, brown booby birds and white whale Migaloo on the Humpback Highway off the East Coast, which feels a bit like a nature boast rather than new insight.
Director Tosca Looby and her various cinematographers tick the boxes of blue-chip nature storytelling, artfully complemented by a score from composer Fraser Purdie.
It’s clear this has been a labour of love, uncovering diverse and entrancing wildlife, and we get to reap the rewards. These kinds of productions require long creative periods and it’s great to see ABC back in this space.
It’s is a great reminder Australia is indeed a very magical place.
Magical Land of Oz 7:40pm Sunday on ABC.