Robson Green on the beauty of the outback – and its dangers
"It’s one of the most hostile and brutal environments on the planet but 15 per cent of Australia's population not only survive but thrive there"
Robson Green’s first visit to Australia was in 1991 when he was cast as a fusilier in Soldier Soldier.
“It was astonishing,” he chuckles. “They sent me first class. So there I am: 27 years old, 38,000 feet in the air in this aluminium tube, and someone’s going, ‘Mr Green, how would you like your steak cooked?’”
It wasn’t just fine dining at altitude that made a lasting impression on the son of a coal miner and a shopkeeper from Tyneside. When he touched down in Alice Springs, a town in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, he was struck by the alien landscape, ancient culture and realisation that time moves at a different pace in these parts.
Above all Green was awed by Uluru – the Aboriginal and official name for Ayers Rock, which is a four-and-a-half- hour drive from Alice Springs (a short hop for locals) in Australia’s “Red Centre”. This 1,100ft-high, two-mile-long monolith is 600 million years old and once sat at the bottom of the sea. “It’s just beautiful – biblical – and I’m not a spiritual guy. It is red but it changes colour when the sunlight hits it. Photographs don’t do it justice.”
Uluru in the Northern Territory is also known as Ayers Rock
For his latest TV project, it was even more spectacular. “It hadn’t rained for decades and while we were there it did – and Uluru turned purple. It was amazing the way the water hit it and waterfalls cascaded down. Thousands of people turned out to see the spectacle.”
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Since 1991 Green has been Down Under many times and travelled all over – but the Red Centre remains his favourite destination. So when Quest asked whether he’d like to make a series about the outback, he didn’t take much persuading. In the three decades since Soldier Soldier launched his acting career (plus a brief singing one), he’s carved out a successful sideline in travel documentaries.
“I love the sense of adventure. I love how travel and meeting other people broadens your horizons. And makes you think about yourself and how you lead your life.
“I don’t go on holiday. My life is my holiday. My father worked as a miner for 42 years and he said to me: ‘Work is not meant to be enjoyed. That’s why it’s called work. Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work again.’”
Robson Green’s Australian Adventure isn’t a typical holiday. Inevitably, it involves uncomfortably close encounters with venomous snakes and saltwater crocodiles – although, refreshingly, Green doesn’t pretend to be the next Crocodile Dundee.
“In Darwin, I went out with a team who catch large reptiles and take them out of harm’s way. They’re fascinating beasts – living dinosaurs – and they’re ferocious. Even the small ones could rip your hand off in the blink of an eye.
“They had this 11- or 12-footer in a cage with a gap about a foot wide, and it decided to go for my leg. It’s the fastest I’ve ever moved and I’m 51. So I jump out of the way and bang my head on the boat. It starts bleeding and I’m screaming, ‘Oh my God, my career, my career!’ And there is the captain with half his left hand missing from a previous attack, and he’s looking at me like: ‘Just deal with it, dude’. I felt a right tool.”
Robson attempts cattle-wrangling in South Australia in episode one
As well as the Northern Territory, in the series he pitches up in the remotest corners of Queensland, South and Western Australia. In the Daintree Rainforest, he finds a community living off the grid. In Arnhem Land – a vast wilderness pockmarked with gorges – he meets the indigenous Jawoyn people.
As Green puts it, the outback is “a different world” and not just to us Brits; it’s alien to the 85 per cent of Aussies who cluster on the coast. “It’s one of the most hostile and brutal environments on the planet but 15 per cent of their population not only survive but thrive there,” he marvels. “They live a genuinely happy life in what to us would seem incredibly uncomfortable and scary. They’re very self-sufficient.
“In this hyper-connected world, sometimes the joy comes from being alongside someone who says to you: ‘We don’t own the land, we belong to it and I’m going to show you how.’ I met a guy in Katherine [a town in Northern Territory] who has the best back garden in the world. He’s never planted a vegetable in his life, but he lives this joyous, stress-free, happy life with what’s available to him.”
It’s obvious that one of the chief attractions for Green is this surrender to the land rather than to the computer or mobile. “Certain landscapes can put you at ease and relieve you of stress. The internet and phone suddenly don’t matter and you can appreciate what surrounds you. It’s good for the mind.”
Robson Green's Australian Adventure begins on Friday 8th April, at 9pm on Quest
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Explore Australia’s larger-than-life natural and man-made wonders, from the sun-baked Outback, lush rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef, to some of the world’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities.