Australia the Beautiful - Deserts and Wetlands

Australia land of extremes often hostile

endlessly in charting

from the red Center where barren deserts

bloom to mysterious Lake air a ghost

that comes and goes from the Flinders

Ranges where nature brook settlers


to Kakadu and the monsoons dazzling

explosion of life

these are wonders to behold these are

riches of deserts and wetlands

looming from the red heart of Australia

uluru the great monolith a freak of


revered by both indigenous and

non-indigenous Australians alike a

cluster of sibling formations juts from

the horizon within sight of uluru once

called the olgas these blushing domes

now go by their Aboriginal name carter

tjuta together these rocks are the focus

of the world heritage-listed uluru-kata

tjuta national park covering more than

1,300 square kilometres this most

conspicuous of landmarks was named ayers

rock by European explorers it's so

significant to the Aborigines that its

original name uluru has been restored

it's a towering presence in the flat

landscape nearly 350 metres high 3

kilometers long and up to 2 kilometers


yet what you see is merely the tip of

the iceberg the rest of the rock is

varied as much as six kilometers


originally Uluru was created under an

ancient Inland Sea a sediment was

deposited in horizontal layers violent

earth movements pushed the rock upwards

the original layers becoming the

vertical ribs seen today

the unangan people have they're dreaming

or creation stories to explain shapes in

the rock the pock marks were left by the

Spears of poisonous snake men and the

cracks were made by an enraged Python

woman striking out at her enemies

kata juta is also a highly sacred place

to the Aborigines it was once a single

land form until an ancient upheaval

opened up joints which eventually eroded

away to form gorges today the 36 domes

of kata Tjuta stand alongside guru as

geological monuments in a vast sandy


eons of weathering and leaching of

nutrients has left the desert soils

impoverished in a place characterized

not by abundance but by diversity only

the most specialized plants and animals

endure Hardy desert survivors scour the

landscape for scarce food and water red

kangaroos the great desert nomads travel

far in search of grass that grows after


birds like zebra finches are quick to

locate pools filled by rain

una Rouge caves provide shelter from the

heat for masked wood swallows in the

cool of the morning they come out into

the open to search for insects by

drinking on the wing they avoid attack

from predators like snakes the caves

also offer protection from birds of prey

for desert animals the search for a meal

is constant a Death Adder homes in on a

skink a Kestrel has spotted it too

where food is scarce its first in first

served animals plants the earth itself

all our fundamental parts of the

australian aborigines universe this

precious tribal knowledge has been

passed down through generations of

central desert people through

storytelling traditionally one of the

most important ways was through rock art

now paint and canvas is the medium for

telling the timeless stories of the

Dreaming central desert Aborigine Johnny

possum Chapel Jerry captures this world

meandering lines are a common motif in

Aboriginal painting often representing

journeys of ancestral beings journeys

that leave telltale tracks another

frequent symbol in their art

in Aboriginal custom a man cannot paint

another man's dream time story Chapel

Jerry is the keeper of the ring tailed

possum story the faintest of prints in

the sand are like words on a page to the

desert people

Angra Levitas kangaroo tracks are the

signatures of the animals revealing what

made them when they were made and where

the animals are likely to be hiding

Chappell Gerry lines the journey path of

the opossum ancestor with decorative


much of the landscape dot painting of

the central deserts is in the style of a

map viewed from above showing the tracks

rocks creeks and plant life

jebel jari completes his painting by

depicting a desert blooming after rains

at such times gravel use and desert

roses decorate the sand dunes with

splashes of color

rain in the desert brings a breath of

cool fresh air and plants and animals

are quick to respond beautiful desert

Oaks bloom attracting many birds such as

honey eaters that feed and nest in their

branches red kangaroos make the most of

the new grass and for them rain and

plentiful food is the signal to begin


far from the confines of the pet shop

wild budgerigar start breeding in

enormous colonies as soon as there is

water and grass seed about

they sweep across the plains in their

hundreds of thousands one of Australia's

most spectacular wildlife displays

after rain uh LaRue is like an island

oasis in a sea of sand in the cool

shadows pools of water linger sustaining

both animals and plants another oasis of

the red Center is the spectacular Kings

Canyon it's part of what our National

Park to the north of Uluru

sheer walls plunging more than a hundred

meters were formed when the massive

sandstone ranged split away at a

vertical joint

the resulting Canyon became a time

capsule of rare ancient plants that

existed across Central Australia

millions of years ago

under the protective shade of the cliffs

more than 50 rare plants survive around

the waterholes

here the MacDonnell ranges cycad grows a

primitive plant from a far wetter past

one that you would expect to find in a

forest not a desert temperatures in the

interior can soar to 50 degrees Celsius

while the blistering heat is

debilitating for most creatures that's

not so for the reptiles

since they depend on warmth to drive

their metabolism and movement this is

truly the land of the lizard there are

more lizards here than anywhere else in

the world most obtain all the moisture

they need from their prey in times of

drought meals can be few and far between

but insect eaters like the thorny devil

are really without supplies in the heat

of the day a hunter scavenger prowls the

low desert scrub tasting the air with

its tongue for any scent of prey either

dead or alive

the Parenti is Australia's largest

lizard it can grow to more than two and

a half meters but most desert lizards

are finger size making them bite-sized

for another creature a relative newcomer

to the desert it's a formidable

indiscriminate predator the feral cat

although they're not native millions of

domestic cats now call Australia home

feral cats have a devastating impact on

native wildlife biologist Rachel poultry

is finding out why she's particularly

interested in learning how the common

cat can possibly survive in the 10 mi

one of Australia's most hostile deserts

wild cats are highly elusive and

Rachel's challenge has been finding any

at all

she enlisted the help of local

aborigines skilled in desert tracking

cats are not adapted to long-distance


they actually tire out quite quickly

this is how Aboriginal people are able

to capture cats initially following

their tracks then flushing the cat out

there's no way that I'd be able to

capture cats without the help of the

Aboriginal women so that cats can be

located and their pattern of movement

followed each is fitted with a radio


next day rachel picks up signals from

kilometers away aboriginal trackers can

interpret from its tracks where it's

gone and exactly how far it's traveled

how many times its pounced on prey what

it's eaten how many times it's sat down

what's happened when it's met other cats

pretty well everything that's happened

rachel's work has revealed how cats

survive in the desert like their reptile

prey they can live on just the moisture

in their food and don't need to drink

the more we understand about the

behavior of feral cats the greater will

be our chances of counteracting them

the success of the cat threatens many

native species with extinction most at

risk is the malla or rufus hare wallaby

fewer than 400 remain on mainland

Australia their only hope is to be

protected in fenced enclosures until

cats are controlled

it's hoped that one day these rare

animals will reclaim their rightful

place in the dry sandy expanse of the

red cinder

Uluru not a lonely sentinel in a harsh

barren land but an integral part of a

dynamic desert environment

together the rocks and wildlife of the

red centre create a rich and

extraordinary landscape alive with the

spirit of the dreaming

billabong a word as sweet as water to a

thirsty man

brimming Billabong's and flowing creeks

were life itself too early pastoralists

the inland of South Australia this is

how it looks in a good season back in

the early 1850s similar conditions

encouraged pioneer settlers to venture


pushing their sheep further and further

north they reached the fenders ranges

what they found here excited them they

settled build their homes and began to

live off the sheep's back

the pastoralists were not to know that

this seductive land also had a dark side

the Flinders Ranges stretch for 420

kilometers and embrace three national

parks they're only a thousand meters

high but said against endless flat

plains they have a majesty all of their


the Rangers present a dramatic contrast

to the continents parched interior emus

thrive in the valley woodlands living

off grasses and shrubs echidnas fossick

france and termites among the leaf

litter lizards soak in the Sun ever

weary of birds of prey a kite rests in a

gum tree between hunting forays the

stately river red gum is a symbol of the

Flinders Ranges

it's elegant form graces the river banks

and creek lines hundreds of years old

the gums have endured the ravages of

countless floods droughts and fires

they're abiding spirit is best captured

in Harold Kaz knows famous photograph of

1937 titled the spirit of endurance

the same tree still stands here today

it's the high walls of the Flinders that

make possible an abundance of life in

this arid region they deflect moist warm

air upwards where it cools condenses and

falls as rain nowhere is the effect more

striking than in wilpena pound it was

once a deep valley enclosed by high


now it's eroded to a vast Basin some 11

kilometers long

like a fortress it holds back the

relentless march of the desert

outside its ramparts the land is dry and

dusty but inside lush grasses and

forests flourish

when settlers first arrived at the

Flinders Ranges there had been long

periods of good rain and feed was

plentiful the circular walls of the

pound made it the ideal grazing run

their flocks soon thrived there were

entire forests of cypress pine for

building and fencing

stone was plentiful and houses could be

built easily

but all was not rosy with rain the grass

grew but so too did introduced weeds the

salvation Jane or Patterson's curse that

painted the hills with color was

potentially poisonous to stock was still

from 1864 to 1866 not a drop of rain

fell sheep and cattle perished many runs

were deserted as settlers fled back to

the coast

to places where rainfall was more


while the red gum endured the will of

the settlers collapsed along with their

dwellings the stone ruins a testament to

a pioneering spirit that fought against

unbeatable odds

elsewhere a reminder that human

habitation in the flinders was a very

recent event indeed in brash Nagor j--

there are rocks which tell a story of

another age here there's a fossil legacy

from 500 million years ago at that time

the Flinders were flooded by sea and

only the most primitive life forms

existed these beautiful patterns were

once living corals that inhabited

shallow waters when the only life on

land was bacteria as well as barring

treasure from the distant past the rocks

of the Flinders are home to a living

treasure the yellow footed rock wallaby

they are nimble fast and able to leap up

and down rock faces with ease

the rock wallabies share the cliffs with

the witch tailed eagle Australia's

largest bird of prey its wings span more

than two meters

the Eagles powerful talons can exert

more than two tons of crushing weight

the yellow foots young stay hidden among

the rocks when danger lurks

human hunters have posed a much greater

threat to the Wallaby highly prized for

its soft gold coat the animal was shot

to the brink of extinction

today with the protection of national

parks yellow foot numbers have bounced

back and their future looks bright

after two centuries of European

settlement in Australia we now

understand much more about this land and

the vagaries of its seasons we know that

the true bounty of the Flinders Ranges

lies not in farming but in its natural


the clock has been wound back to a time

before grazing and the Flinders Ranges

have been returned to nature for


ghost leaks

that's what Australia's inland lakes are

sometimes called and like ghosts they

disappear into thin air

most of the time they just dry salt pans

for three or four times each century

rivers flood with drenching rains that

have fallen thousands of kilometres away

the water eventually makes its way to

the lowest point of the continent 15

meters below sea level

this is Lake Eyre the largest salt lake

in Australia it covers more than 13,000

square kilometers

the floodwaters have swept billions of

fish along with them and the lake bursts

into life

mysteriously pelicans arrive in tens of

thousands from thousands of kilometers

away how on earth do they know that the

lake is filling one theory is that they

can sense far distant storms but the

mystery remains wildlife cameraman

Lindsay Cooper is fascinated by pelicans

and their nomadic life

the best way of getting around on the

shallow lake is by hovercraft

arrogance probably 10 years since I

first thought about making a Pelican

film I think it was probably my my first

visit to like here when I first saw them

breathing back in 1990 30 what you know

what a magic story he's been to lake

eyre many times since and has captured

wonderful images of these birds and

their behavior Lindsay lived alongside a

colony of pelicans on an island for so

long that they came to accept him and

his hide as part of the scenery

pelicans breed as fast as they can while

their new food supply is plentiful

in times of widespread flooding a

hundred thousand birds have been known

to breed here

nesting on islands in the lake

even in years of minor floods when small

lakes form it's an important breeding

ground for a number of different species

so important that Lake Eyre was declared

a national park it's one of the few

places where the rare banded stilt


Caspian turns are also visitors to Lake

Eyre where they nurture their young in

large colonies

while one pelican parent minds the

family the other will go off fishing

sometimes traveling as far as a hundred

kilometres to find a good spot

with their heavy cargo of fresh fish on

board they skim low to the ground on the

Homewood flight

it's really fascinating watching

pelicans feed their chicks small chicks

pick their parents beak to prompt them

to regurgitate little fish into the nest

larger chicks have more demanding they

actually delve their heads right deep

into their parents gullet parent bubble

will let them feed but obviously when

she's run out of fish

she's got to force the chick to get out

of her gullet

but then the chick feels he hasn't had

enough and just goes in this it's like a

real mental sort of convulsion and it

flaps around and sort of squawks and

pecks itself on the wing and just goes

absolutely berserk you think the poor

thing is absolutely dying but after a

while and when it gets no attention it

gets up and walks away again

when like--are dries up the pelicans run

out of food all the fish are gone and

their chicks starve

we make a valiant effort to keep them

alive but in the end I've got to just

abandon them and return to the coast

eventually the last of the pelicans will

fly from Lake Eyre

what water remains will soak into the

desert sands

and the pelicans will find another

Waterworld far from this ghostly

far away in Australia's tropical north

is a much wetter place here

pelicans join thousands millions of

other water birds

this is the renowned kakadu national

park for water birds of Australia's top

end the threat of drought is rare but

there is a threat from the animal at the

top of the food chain

the Australians saltwater crocodile is

the largest reptile on earth all lo Lieh

creatures are nervous in its presence

kakadu is the kingdom of the crocodile

covering nearly 20,000 square kilometres

kakadu is Australia's largest national

park and a world heritage area

it stretches from the coast through

river plains to the Arnhem Land


140 million years ago it's believed that

much of Kakadu lay submerged beneath the

shallow sea the sandstone escarpment we

see today would once have been sea

cliffs these spectacular rocks rise more

than 300 meters above the plains and

stretch for more than 500 kilometers

it's a contradictory land of dry tropics

and monsoonal flooding bursting with a

rich and unique life

as many as 1700 plant species flourish

here and more than a third of all

Australia's bird species

this garden of eden' is home to more

than 50 types of mammals and over a

hundred and twenty reptiles from the

meek to the mighty

in the wet when the monsoonal rains come

this great National Park laws into

Waterfalls add their runoff to rivers

that become a vast floodplain spreading

to the sea

the floodplains have settled at many

different levels during the advance and

retreat of the Ice Ages the Aboriginal

people of kakadu have lived through at

least 40,000 years of these dramatic

changes it's the longest continuing

surviving human culture in the world and

it's left us with some of the oldest art

galleries on earth painted more than

20,000 years ago there are more than

5,000 sites in kakadu surely the biggest

rock art gallery in the world in the

distant past kakadu was a very different

place much of it was open savanna where

Aborigines hunted kangaroos

in those times the Tasmanian Tiger would

also have stalked kangaroos but it

became extinct here about 4000 years ago

a rock painting of the tiger at obeah is

at least that old

by the end of the Ice Age 8,000 years

ago sea levels had flooded the lowlands

all the way to the escarpment then fish

became the main game

turtles - were depicted in the rock art

and one of special significance the

existence of the pig-nosed turtle in

Australia was unknown to science until

its discovery in 1968

ironically Aborigines have always been

aware of its existence

this ochre image reveals it's been here

for thousands of years

at nourlangie rock there is a famous

gallery that tells of a creation

ancestor nammar gong or lightning man

who conjures up the violent storms that

occur every wet season with the axes on

his head elbows and feet he splits the

dark clouds asunder

nearby is the margins wife and his


the kakadu galleries also contain a more

recent story about the arrival of

Europeans with their gums

below the stone country of the

escarpment sprawls kakadu 'he's most

common vegetation tropical wood land

here some eye-catching characters hang


the frill-necked lizard is usually a

mild mannered creature but when danger

looms he undergoes a dramatic

personality change he puffs up his fiery

frill pretending to be larger-than-life

stiff rods of cartilage connected to

muscles in the tongue and jaw raised the

frill but if a predator is not

intimidated by this display the frill

neck resorts to his final ploy retreat

also living in the woodland is the top

ends largest kangaroo the end till a

pine Wallaroo over the dry season she

survived on a meager diet of roots and

tree bark but with the bad times behind

her she will soon be anxious to breed


as more and more water tumbles off the

escarpment rivers overflow to flood the

low country in the north

these wetlands are kakadu x' most famous

sprawling across two and a half thousand

square kilometers

this is what people from all over the

world come to see monsoon water plants

and heat together they act as a

perpetual solar engine of life

everything gathers to make the most of

the opportunities to feed and breed

seeds that have lain dormant in dry mud

rapidly sprout attracting magpie geese

back to the floodplain

after months of struggling to find food

they now gorge themselves on the new

growth of aquatic plants but at all

times they need to maintain a wary eye

the geese are joined by elegant Brogan's

these birds are famed for their language

dance steps

fish trapped in shrinking Billabong's

over the dry season spread out through

the floodplain and multiply

they're jumping catches the attention of

a pair of white breasted sea eagles and

a black nape to turn

with appetites satisfied the magpie

geese turn their attention to sex lovers

quarrels break out as they prepare to

mate and nest


at the edges of the wetland the frenetic

activity is replaced by the peaceful

pace of life in the paperbark swamp


breaking the stillness is a busy forest

Kingfisher with young beaks to feed

rather than building their own nests

these birds have taken over one built by

termites evicting the tenants and making

it their family home agile Wallabies are

also enjoying the growth of the wet

season here in the forest they can relax

the vegetation providing cover from

predators like dingos

the monsoon season has reached its peak

and now the floodwaters begin to recede

Lotus lilies reach full bloom and their

sweet perfume is irresistible to insects

as they go from plant to plant spreading

pollen they assure the future of their

favorite food source more than 10,000

insect species live in kakadu

but as always a beast lurks amid the

beauty of kakadu one that has stood the

test of time surviving virtually

unchanged since the time of the

dinosaurs the saltwater crocodile can

grow to more than five meters and live

for up to a hundred years

at this time of year water birds like

the Egret are dependent on the

floodplain to feed and find a mate

crocodiles need only patrol the shores

to find their next meal they are the

masters of ambush once they have

targeted their prey they disappear with

barely a ripple any unwary bird is

likely to end up on the crocodiles menu

in kakadu the dramatic cycle of life and

death is inevitable but as fearsome as

the crocodile is it's as dependent as

any other creature on the lifeblood of

kakadu water for as long as monsoonal

rains urban flow kakadu national park

will remain the kingdom of the crocodile

and a sanctuary for some of the most

exquisite life forms on the planet