Natural World: Kangaroo Dundee (FOR AGB FILMS)
WINNER: 2013 MONTANA INTERNATIONAL WILDLIFE FILM FESTIVAL BEST SERIES & BEST MUSIC
WINNER: 2013 JACKSON HOLE FILM FESTIVAL BEST PEOPLE AND NATURE
FINALIST: 2014 GRIERSON AWARDS BEST SCIENCE AND NATURE FILM
Director – Tom Mustill (co-directed with Andrew Graham-Brown), Produced for AGB Films for BBC Natural World & Animal Planet.
Brolga is a tough Australian who lives in the desert outback with a mob of orphaned kangaroos. He is mum to three baby joeys that live in his tin shack with him. His hope is to raise and return them to the wild – but one has fallen seriously ill and may not make it.
Kangaroo Dundee: Episode 1- Being a Kangaroo Mum
Brolga introduces us to the world of looking after orphaned kangaroos
How We Made Kangaroo Dundee
The first thing that struck me about Brolga was the sign on his car. ‘Frequently stopping for roadkill’. A small and rusty box, covered in peeling kangaroo stickers and held together with cable ties. His car was as unusual in the air-con SUV world of Alice Springs as the six foot seven man who emerged from it. From a lumpy blanket he produced a tiny baby kangaroo, and holding it to his grizzly lips, gently spat into its mouth. A year later I was back, with my co-director Andrew Graham-Brown, and a Natural World to make.
We spent almost four months with Brolga over the course of the next year. Living across the dirt track we shared his one-room tin shack universe, surrounded by the scrubby plain where he’d quietly built his childhood dream of a sanctuary for orphaned roos.
￼ Orphan Kangaroos
The kangaroos mostly lose their mothers to the road – smashed to bits by drivers in a country where many kill kangaroos for fun, and consider running them down a form of pest control. But in their dead mothers pouches, held in a visceral seatbelt of muscles, their young joeys can survive for days. Brolga patrols the roads and pulls them from the carnage, raises them as a surrogate mother, then releases them to the wild.
Following him and three such orphans from rescue to release was the premise of our film, and we quickly got used to being followed everywhere by these strange and absurdly enchanting kangaroos. Any inviting opening, from equipment bags to clothes pockets, was a pouch, and as a tiny wide-eyed fur-ball eagerly leapt into your clothing it was easy to forget they were wild, and would be back in the outback fending for themselves in a few months.
We were determined that beneath this cute-fest was an opportunity to explore all we know about the remarkable natural history of these animals. That in showing Brolga’s efforts to raise his orphans as their mother would have, we could hold a wide audience’s attention to the remarkable biology of the three vagina-ed marsupial with 8 meter hops that he was replacing.
Those roos which cannot be released to the wild instead live in his reserve – protected from dogs by a vast fence, but otherwise wild. Unlike the released animals, some of these kangaroos are habituated to humans enough to let you approach. Over the course of months Andrew and I were able to get closer and closer to them, until eventually we were able to film both a birth, in the freezing dead of night, and then the newborn joey, the size of the nail of your little finger, inside his mothers pouch.
To capture this Andrew had a tiny round dimmable LED ring the exact size of the pouch made to slot around our lipstick camera so that we could show the developing roo without harming its eyes. Over several weeks we built up trust with a kangaroo called Ella, whose taste for carrots sometimes overrode her urge to kick anyone looking into her pouch. Slowly allowed closer, I’d warm the kit in my armpit before gently nudging it through Ella’s fur for a view into the second womb where her glistening joey lay. For a few seconds a day, we’d freeze awestruck in the sand as images from this world filtered back. We followed this joey, Nigel, from embryo to fully independent kangaroo. The moment of of his leaving the pouch for the first time on wobbly legs, a second birth whose time he chose himself, was perhaps the most intimate and touching in the year we spent with the roos. Ella exacted a hefty toll for this footage when she devoured the unread final page of my Bob Dylan autobiography.
Our film was supposed to be an hour long, following the simple tale of Brolga raising three orphaned baby roos. It ended up being Natural World’s first 2 hour film, I think this might be because we found ourself able to revel in such a limited world –
and so able to spin a narrative that held more attention than perhaps if we’d opted to try and ram the film with bloody fights and kills, epic aerials and super slow motion. What transfixed us most in the kangaroos was the way they twitched in their sleep.
In Brolga’s strange marriage of rugged obsession and motherhood we had an extraordinary character and in his pain of first dedicating everything to rearing these helpless orphans, then remove himself coldly and absolutely to safely turn them loose into a world outside of his control, we had a story that resonated in living rooms far removed from his tin shed.
After transmission Brolga received tens of thousands of dollars of donations, as well as over a dozen marriage proposals. The most satisfying responses we had came from both Australian citizens and their press, who were shocked at how it had taken a pommie film crew to give attention and screen time to an animal which both adorns their flag and airline, and provokes disgust and ignorance in many. It is our hope that, with Brolga’s help, our film may lead Australians to reassess their kangaroos and open their hearts once more to these charismatic desert dwellers.
Presented by: Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns
Narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
Directors: Tom Mustill and Andrew Graham-Brown
Photography: Andrew Graham-Brown
Sound and Additional Photography: Tom Mustill
Film Editors: Nigel Buck, Graham Taylor and Rick Holbrook
Executive producer: Chris Cole
Series Editor: Steve Greenwood