From 'Life on Earth' to 'Planet Earth' and beyond.....
The first iconic and ground breaking natural history series I remember him producing and presenting was 'Life on Earth', in 1979. I was in my first year of university. Never before had we seen such magnificent wildlife footage put in the context of whole ecosystems, instead of mere documentation of one species at a time.
Already a devotee of wildlife documentaries, I then began following the work of this remarkable man up to the present. Some thirty years on he is eighty-eight and still continuing to inspire me, to the point my niece now calls me Fiona Attenborough, as I attempt to go and experience life in the wild, all over the planet, where I shoot thousands of wildlife photographs like most of those above.
I have even visited some of the places David Attenborough has been to. The destinations may look exotic, he may be handling amazing animals in scenic locations, but what the public does not see is the enormous extent of travel over rough roads, or in light aircraft, often in extreme weather conditions, nor how much patience it takes to get a decent animal photo in the first place, let alone film an entire narration sequence with the animal cooperating in the background.
Only after driving through the dust and storms of East Africa, on bumpy, corregated bush tracks avoiding being bitten by tetse flies, crossing a flooded crocodile infested river, where the usual river crossing had been festooned with debris and any driver slip would leave us to the crocs, along with having thirteen injections in preparation for my safari, did I even begin to get some idea, of just how remarkable David Attenborough and his team of amazing wildlife camera and sound crews truly is. It's tough, physically and mentally demanding work. It involves lots of behind the scenes negotiations with local authorities and governments, for permission to film. Accomodation is sometimes glamarous and comfortable, but try tents and no hot water with limited contact with the outside world for days on end. David Attenborough has endured all this, to leave the world a legacy, of what must be the greatest contribution to our understanding of the natural world, since Charles Darwin.
Little wonder, the newest wing of the Natural History Museum in London is named in his honour and a theatre dedicated to the screening of materials made in collaboration by Attenborough and the museum takes pride of place at its centre!
I am so greatful David Attenborough didn't enjoy being head honcho at the BBC and resigned in 1973, only to pursue his passion as a naturalist and return to broadcasting.
I am not alone in my love and respect for David Attenborough and his work. Many a time have staffroom discussions over lunch revolved around his latest programme. Many classes have gained so much from watching these documentaries, that many schools purchase as a matter of course for their science department. Multiply this beyond Australia and the United Kingdom to across most countries around the world and I speculate that David Attenborough is amongst the most loved and respected human beings on the planet. I can think of few individuals who have contributed as much to our understanding of our planet and its diverse species and ecosystems, nor bringing to life the process of evolution before our eyes. Stephen Hawkings comes to mind, but his audience is way more a specialist and academic one, whereas David Attenborough is truly a man of the people. He talks in plain language that is accessible and informative. He turns education into entertainment, where learning is fun and fascinating. You do not need a degree in biology or paleantology to understand his narratives. However one arrives at the end, more knowledgable and enriched as a result of watching them.
David Attenborough is also the kind of man who accepts he is merely a team player in the execution of these amazing productions. He gets excited about new technologies that have enabled intricate film details and animations opening our natural world ever further.
I can think of no other teacher or mentor from whom I have learned more and no other man who has been such an influence on my life, except my own father.
Whenever I go out observing animals or birds in the wild, anywhere in the world I look for tiny details taught to me by David Attenborough. The five digits that make up a hand/wing or toe structure that all mamals, birds, reptiles and even fish share in one form or another. I speculate about what animal is a distant relative of another. I am happy to spend hours observing a single species going about its life or mating rituals, or raising its young for hours, even days and occasionally for weeks at a time, or over many years, as is the case with the honeyeaters that inhabit my garden, or the birds at Lake Wendouree. I can spot animals that are very well camoflaged in the wild, with a fair degree of accuracy, despite the fact some rocks are remarkably good at impersonating wild animals as well!
I am writing this blog entry to celebrate the work of David Attenborough while he is still alive and well. It is my way of thanking him not just for what he has given and taught me, but the world as a whole. His programs and series magnify the importance of our own roles in maintaining and conserving the world's extraordinary species, ecosystems, abundance of life and valuing the human diversity that is part of it.
Little wonder I and many others want to go and witness these wild places and species for ourselves!
Long may the BBC'S Natural History Unit flourish and find funding for new and innovative programs and series!