The Wild Connection

It's rough, it's tumble, and Kakadu is downright dirty. In this era of dedicated documentary channels, David Attenborough on prime time, and Discovery network reruns played ad nauseam, it’s easy to become immune to the grand-scale awesomeness of a world shot in high definition.

Thanks to lavishly produced series coming from the BBC, among other broadcasters, we might now feel intimately connected with the wilds of Africa, the jungles of Asia or the isolated beauty of a frosty wilderness such as Antarctica, but save for those two-second bites on Qantas in- flight commercials, the epic beauty of Australia’s Top End has remained largely untapped.

Until now.

The ABC’s four-part series Kakadu, shot over a year at the park, is bringing the large-scale beauty of this wilderness to our living rooms. And the results are every bit as awe-inspiring.

“I knew Kakadu – I had been there [and] filmed there a couple of times over seven or eight years,” series director, producer and cinematographer Nick Robinson says. “I knew the landscape fairly well.”

“I knew it could be as big as the Masai Mara if we did it right. It should be that big… We have these incredible landscapes that have never been exploited in that same way. And I wanted to try and do that.”

As well as depicting the natural world in all its splendour, Robinson and his team on the ground – astoundingly, just four of them were shooting in the field – set about telling the stories of the people who work in Kakadu.

“Wildlife doesn’t exist in a bubble – we are obviously a part of it,” Robinson says.

“Kakadu is this amazing microcosm, and an example of how you can live in a place that’s wild, keep it wild and not change it to suit your own needs. We are not used to living in places and not changing them to become something more comfortable and less dangerous. And in the process we destroy those places.

"Kakadu is great mix of people living in a place, and they're not changing it; they're learning from the indigenous people there with their intimate knowledge of the workings of that natural world."

In the first episode of the series we meet ranger Kathy Wilson, a tough-as-nails woman who, along with her team, has been charged with hunting down the last remaining saltwater crocs left in the rivers and billabongs near Jim Jim Falls.

It's one of the park's most-popular tourist destinations - and must remain croc-free. What ensues is a weeks-long mission to round up the last remaining crocs and kill them before they can wreak havoc.

Robinson suspects the scenes of the rangers taking out the majestic four-metre croc, butchering it for its meat for the local indigenous land-owners and hauling it away in the back of a ute may cause some viewers discomfort.

"I think that's going to upset some folks," he explains, before going on to add that crocs are no longer a protected species and that they were traditionally hunted by the locals in the area.

"They eat croc, they hunt croc... so taking out a few crocs that might make their way to those areas, providing food to the locals... it's a win-win situation."

The rangers who work there admit it took a while to adjust to the cameras following them.

"When it first started it was a bit different," says Khan Spokes, the acting senior ranger for the South Alligator district. "But Nick [and his team] made it so easy.

"We had a laugh, so it just became real easy and good fun. I actually really enjoyed it, having the opportunity to showcase some of the things we do behind the scenes."

With the series likely to be sold overseas, still more people will get to see.

"I think the story is bigger than Australia," he says.

"It's people doing extraordinary things in a wilderness."

Kakadu, October 6, ABC1, 7.30pm.