In the Land of Extremes

Article excerpt

Discovery Channel takes us to Australia, a land where bush-fires rage, monsoons drench the ground and the wildlife has to cope with both

Australia, the world's largest island, and Earth's oldest continent, began to take shape some 50 million years ago when it broke away from the great southern continent known as Gondwanaland -- a landmass once incorporating Africa, South America, India and Antarctica. Australia holds clues to life in the earliest history of our planet. A rock found near Marble Bar, in Western Australia, revealed the remains of organisms which lived 3,500 million years ago -- the oldest life form ever discovered. Footprints and fragmentary remains of several dinosaur species have been uncovered, and opalised marine fossils are unique to the country.

The cliffs of the rugged Great Australian Bight -- the longest unbroken stretch of sea cliffs in the world -- mark the point where Australia tore away from Antarctica and began its slow drift north.

It is a land of contrasts; from the arid sands of the Nullarbor Plain, where underground streams have carved out huge caverns, to the world's oldest rainforest in northern Queensland, and the world's largest coral reef -- the Great Barrier Reef which stretches more than 2,010 kilometres. Australia's isolation and the sheer age of its landmass has forced the unique evolution of its distinctive wildlife. While Sydney hosts the 2000 Olympic Games, Extreme Australia takes us to meet the geological oddities and unique creatures of this remote continent.

CRADLE OF HUMANITY

For more than at least 50,000 years Australia has been home to humanity. The first Aborigines probably took advantage of low sea levels during the last Ice Age to island hop their way across the Timor Sea to the country's northern shoreline. From here they spread across the continent and established a culture that developed in isolation from the rest of the world. Their ancient traditions thrived in a kinship and close spiritual bond with every living thing and even with inanimate objects such as rocks, rivers and other geographical features. Various geological sites are considered sacred and believed to be imbued with their own personality and significance. This thriving culture was only broken 212 years ago, when a fleet of British squareriggers arrived in Sydney Harbour, loaded to the gunnels with crooks and thieves. In little more than two centuries, these initially unwilling colonists have transformed the continent more radically than ever before. But, like the Aborigines before them, the continent has in turn transformed the colonists. The result is a robust young nation attempting to tread carefully on an ancient landscape.

Extreme Australia is scheduled for broadcast on Sunday 17 September at 8.00pm

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