During the pandemic a lot of us ‘rediscovered’ the joys (or not) of walking, so it was probably inevitable that a television show on Australian walks would crop up somewhere in our schedules.
Where else but SBS, already drawing in viewers with a string of British treks? Indeed, Great Australian Walks with Julia Zemiro, actually feels long overdue.
TV walking shows, if such a genre exists, are as much about history and presenter personality as they are landscapes. They inform and entertain us, and hopefully motivate us to get up off the couch and explore neighbourhoods near and far. The always versatile Zemiro, is the perfect host for all of the above.
Produced by Mint Pictures, Episode 1 of this 10 part series takes place in Bunurong Country, or more specifically the 13.75km walk from Sorrento to Fort Nepean on the Mornington Peninsula. One one side is the roar of Bass Strait, on the other the more sedate Port Phillip Bay -one of which lost us a Prime Minister (more on that later).
Zemiro arrives via ferry from the Bellarine Peninsula (that’s Geelong way) to Sorrento where -gobsmackingly- she has never been before, despite her years of residing in Melbourne. Say what? Yes, she knows the Tina Arena song and the Hannie Rayson play / movie, but concedes she didn’t take enough time to experience its bayside delights.
“I think I worked too much,” she admits.
The history lessons begin quick smart with Sorrento explained as being Victoria’s first European settlement 1803, albeit temporarily.
As she strolls towards up a beach path to the town, with the soothing sounds of guitar strings, you really want to join her. Instead she is met by local walker and editor, Tamsin O’Neill as she discovers Millionaire’s Walk.
“Sorrento’s about wealth isn’t it?,” Zemiro suggests. You bet.
Historic facts are gently nudged on screen as drone shots capture the serenity and a local neighbour John, tells the story of land given back to the crown. Ok even if he was worded up by producers, you still welcome the insight.
There’s also some clever use of CGI to recreate days of yore, not a term I am prone to dropping in casual reviews. Ok this series has me chilling out.
Zemiro and co. remind us that walking is important for mental health. ‘And physical’ I am yelling at my TV.
At the site of an 1852 Quarantine Station another expert, Erik Lloga, reflects on the use of the site as recently as 1999 when Australia welcomed 4000 refugees from Kosovo under the Howard government. Its origins were even darker when up to 170 European ships, riddled with diseases including typhoid, cholera and yellow fever, saw passengers quarantined. Tragically those diseases also decimated the Bunurong people.
This brings us to actor Tasma Walton and Bunurong elder Aunty Gail Kunwara Dawson who welcome Zemiro with a smoking ceremony before retelling heartbreaking stories of local women abducted by whalers and sealers, many of whom were never returned to their home. WA born Tasma Walton also reflects on discovering her own heritage to the land and filming on country for her first big TV series, Blue Heelers.
Lastly historian Tom Griffiths at Fort Nepean expands on the 1967 disappearance of PM Harold Holt, not just in the dangers of the rip, but the conspiracy theories which surround the infamous incident.
If I’m left with any questions it’s around how long it takes to walk (I’m guessing around 3 hours), and whether production had access to private property (to be fair Zemiro is clear that Millionaire’s Walk is hard to find but public land). Also, what should I carry on my walk, and what challenges for people with disabilities? A postcard at episode’s end might be good to list the basics, Getaway style.
Still as we are reminded, walking is free. The series works so well I wish it was on Tuesday nights instead of those blessed trains, but maybe it will get more oxygen (see what I did there?) later in the week.
“Everything is in walking distance if you just find the time,” Zemiro suggests.
Fab. Only now do we have to walk back?
Great Australian Walks with Julia Zemiro 7:30pm Thursday on SBS.