Martin begins the next part of his journey on Mundoo Island. Located in the mouth of Australia’s longest river, the Murray, it is an island farm. Its unique combination of succulent saltmarsh plants and life giving fresh water make it ideal for beef cattle.
Mundoo Island has provided shelter and a way of life for five generations of one farming family: the Grundys.
As Martin joins Colin and Sally Grundy for a day of cattle mustering, he learns more about the unique possibilities and challenges of farming on an island. Rob Virgo, an 79 year old cowboy from Adelaide, who regularly lends a hand, shows Martin the ropes.
“By British standards, this is farming on a grand scale. Mundoo’s 6,000 acres makes my 135 acre farm in Dorset look like an allotment. With the combined forces of quads, motorbike and man on a horse, we’re able to channel the herd towards the paddock gate,” Martin explains.
Less than ten years ago, drought brought heartbreaking devastation to Mundoo, and wiped out hundreds of cattle. All the water was siphoned away upstream, almost wiping this island farm from the face of the earth. Hard work by the Grundys has brought the island back from the brink of oblivion.
From the coastline of the state of Victoria, Martin crosses a 2,000 foot long bridge to Phillip Island, one of Australia’s favourite playgrounds.
An easy day trip from Melbourne, Phillip Island is home to an unusual mix of high-octane sports and local wildlife. Australia’s first Grand Prix race was held here in 1928 but Phillip Island Grand Prix track is home to a uniquely Australian obsession with V8 supercars, motorbikes and historic car races. This is Martin’s chance to try a lap round the circuit in an iconic Mini Cooper – travelling at 200 kph.
Phillip Island boasts one of Australia’s greatest conservation success stories. Martin meets penguin specialist Paula Wasiak, who takes him to see the island’s flourishing colony of Fairy or Little Penguins, the only penguin species native to Australia.
Martin is offered the unique opportunity to help out with the monitoring process as the penguins are lifted from their burrows, weighed and measured. Large tracts of Phillip Island were bought back from landowners to create this important breeding programme. It’s the biggest land buy-back in the whole of Australia for a single animal species, and the paying tourists who come to watch them parading every night help fund their conservation.
“Phillip Island is a little gem of a place: not just because of its sunny beaches, or its beautiful landscape, or even its racetrack thrills. It’s more even than the thriving penguin population. It’s the fact that on this island, at least, is proof that man and nature can happily coexist,” Martin says.
Martin heads south to King Island, in the blustery Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia. It bears the brunt of the fearsome Trade Winds from South America, and its shores are littered with one of the highest concentrations of shipwrecks in Australia.
Martin meets Stephanus Pretorius, one of several resourceful islanders who make a living out of the bounty provided by the wild seas: huge swathes of bull kelp washed ashore by the storms and tides. It’s one of the biggest species of seaweed and it’s used in all kinds of everyday products; from cakes, puddings and sauces to toothpaste and shampoo. Martin follows the kelp through the factory process, and taste-tests it.
Martin completes his odyssey with a visit to see one of Australia’s most iconic creatures: the Tasmanian Devil. This, the world’s largest surviving marsupial predator, is under serious threat from a horrible facial tumour disease that’s threatening to wipe out the species.
Scientists, who have been trying to save the Tasmanian Devil, have released several healthy breeding pairs onto a much smaller island off the east coast of Tasmania. Maria Island has become a sanctuary to help save the Devil from extinction. Martin spends a night on the island, and with the help of biologist, Phil Wise, tries to spot one in its wild, natural habitat. They leave bait, and wait to hear the unearthly howls that contributed to the creature’s familiar name.
After seeking out healthy Devils on little Maria Island, Martin heads to the northern part of Tasmania to learn how scientists are developing a new vaccine to halt the devastating spread of the disease. In Narawntapu National Park, biologist Sam Fox, takes Martin on a search for trapped Devils, and Martin watches as Tasmanian Devils are tagged and tested.
Martin concludes: “Throughout my incredible journey people have constantly asked me: what’s my favourite Australian island?
“So I think back to the kaleidoscope of landscapes I’ve seen: forests, lagoons, rivers and waterfalls. I recall the incredible diversity of creatures I’ve encountered on land and in the sea. And I remember all the wonderful people I’ve met, and the warmest of welcomes so many have given me.
“But you can’t just put one island in a race against another, it just doesn’t work like that. But I do know this, if you take a group of people, whether they were born on an island or they blew in, and you put them together, then something happens. And because this is Australia it happens in a uniquely Australian way. You get a community of hard working, tenacious people all looking out for each other, proud of their communities, proud of their island, and if a problem occurs, then it has to be dealt with because you can’t walk away on an island.”