Australia - a land cast adrift at the time of the dinosaurs.

Published: 22 October 2019
Most of the animals in Australia are found nowhere else.
— Emma Napper

Isolated for millions of years, the weird and wonderful animals marooned here are like nowhere else on Earth.

In its jungles a cassowary - one of the most dangerous birds in the world - stands six feet tall. Inland, kangaroos and wombats brave snowstorms and gum tree forests are filled with never-before-seen predators. In its red desert heart, reptiles drink through their skin and huge flocks of wild budgerigars swirl in search of water. On secret islands Tasmanian devils roam and offshore, thousands of sharks gather for a rare event.

Stories from filming

Number of days filming: 256

  • The team were trying to film in a desert where there has been a drought for seven years - it rained on day one when the crew were there
  • Location director Theo Webb ended up standing too close to an ants nest while filming near a female alpha dingo so had to be exceptionally quiet. This resulted in Theo having to strip down to his undies trying not to screech too loud!

Filming locations and species

1. Cassowary - Queensland
2. Little red flying fox - Northern Territory
3. Wombat - New South Wales
4. Eastern grey kangaroo - New South Wales
5. Dingo - New South Wales
6. Jottus jumping spider - New South Wales
7. Perentie and thorny devil - Northern Territory
8. Budgerigar - Queensland
9. Sharks and baitball - Western Australia
10. Tasmanian devil - Tasmania

Facts on species featured

  • Cassowaries are the Earth’s second heaviest bird and have claws longer than a velociraptor
  • Adult eastern grey kangaroos can reach over 2m and can run as fast as a race horse
  • Koalas in gum tree forests eat only the leaves that are toxic to most other species
  • Sharks were around for 200 million years before the dinosaurs
  • Tasmanian devils can eat 40% of their body weight in one sitting, they have the most powerful bite (relative to size) of any mammal and can devour everything even bones

Australia: did you know?

  • The jungles of northern Australia are the oldest on our planet, unchanged for 180 million years
  • Australia is moving faster than any other continent
  • Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth
  • Little or no rain falls over five million square km of Australia (70% of the land)
  • Murujuga hosts the largest collection of rock art in the world - over one million engravings of wildlife

An interview with Emma Napper, producer of Australia

Tell us about Australia...

Australia's story across time is that it used to be attached to Antarctica. Then it split from Antarctica and it has been moving north. When it split from Antarctica a raft of animals - marsupials, reptiles, birds - were separated off and marooned. As a result, most of the animals in Australia are found nowhere else. It's a continent of weirdos, beautiful animals, things you haven't seen in other places. What I loved at the beginning of this process is you ask a lot of people what lives in Australia and they'll say kangaroos and koalas… and then they get stuck. Yet there's this amazing array of animals that have been stranded there for millions and millions of years. Australia over time has been getting hotter and hotter. When it separated from Antarctica it was basically all forest. Now it’s almost all desert. That's quite a story to tell in itself.

And what can you tell us about the dingoes?

Dingoes are very, very hard animals to get anywhere near. And outside of Australia a lot of people don’t know what they are. We had to get to know a pack and in particular an individual female within that pack to tell their story.

We filmed in a park in southwest Australia called Namadgi. Dingoes roam across hundreds of kilometres, which makes them very challenging to film. When we started, we were told that we wouldn't be able to get anything because they were just too frightened. We put at least eight weeks into filming it, which is an incredibly long time. We started off with a small camera crew with a long lens, but we soon added a couple of more people when we realised that the area was so vast that we needed two crews to even cover it. Then we added in a drone and the dingoes were okay with that. Then eventually a helicopter.

There are some stories where it feels like you're fighting a battle of wills with a single individual animal thousands of miles away. We had this beautiful white female dingo who was so filmable, but also very skittish. Partly the animal had to get used to us, but mostly we just had to work out what the hell she was doing because they're like phantoms. They're masters of their environment. There was nobody on the ground who could tell us where they would be or go. So we had to study the dingoes ourselves, even though we’d barely ever seen them. We had to go from nothing to being able to second guess what the animals would be doing on any given day. We filmed for eight weeks in the end, which is an incredibly long time, but the resulting film shows you an animal that has hardly been seen on TV doing an incredible piece of hunting.

Can you tell us more about the cassowaries?

The cassowary is Australia's ostrich. It's the world's deadliest bird and it lives in the deep jungle in the north of Australia, which is the oldest jungle on Earth. That jungle was walked by dinosaurs and basically when dinosaurs became extinct, cassowaries took their place.

We filmed a cassowary, but they are incredibly secretive and very hard to spot. You don't see them until you've stood next to them and then they get cross: you wouldn't accidentally walk up to a lion, but you might accidentally walk up to a cassowary. The females stand about six feet tall, the males more like five feet, but they rear up above head height and they have claws on their feet that are longer than a velociraptor’s. They can run up to 30 mph, jump five feet in the air and they can swim. So if you surprise them you’re done for; that’s why they’re the world’s deadliest bird.

Two of our Australian cameramen staked out the forest for a long time until we worked out where this male cassowary was going to be. We had to put out camera traps and do our own fieldwork, but we managed to film this male looking after his chicks in this forest. I've wanted to film them for several years and that forest is just quite a magical place for me - you're literally looking at what dinosaurs would have seen.

How did drone technology help you make Seven Worlds, One Planet?

On Planet Earth II we were using drones, but even three or four years ago they were quite heavy-duty things. Now the technology is so much better that we're able to use the drones with almost all of the animals that we’ve filmed. It can make a big difference in the behaviour you can see. In the Australia episode, for example, we filmed a shark aggregation which only happens every 15 years. It’s sharks on a baitball off the west coast of Australia on Ingli, and if you were filming that from the sea on a boat, you would just see a hell of a lot of splashing around and some fins. Get a drone up in the air and suddenly you can see the shark's tactics, you can see what they're doing and not only that, you can see that the baitball at one point got up to something like 15 kilometres long. We have shots of thousands of sharks all at once coming together, and to me that's the magic of the drone.

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