PLEASE NOTE: Add your own commentary here above the horizontal line, but do not make any changes below the line. (Of course, you should also delete this text before you publish this post.)
by Guardian.co.uk” width=”140″ height=”45″ />This article titled “Shark tales: Martin Clunes dives off Western Australia” was written by Interview by Max Brearley, for The Guardian on Friday 6th January 2017 06.30 UTC
There are lots of remote communities in Australia, but there’s something different about an island. Maybe it’s the water, a kind of moat mentality. I’ve lived in a village and they can be pretty back-stabbing, whereas on a small island, if you have a problem you sort it out because you can’t run away. You can’t ignore things. We were in the Abrolhos Islands, off the west coast, for Anzac Day, and there were lots of drunk Aussies playing [traditional gambling game] Two Up. But it was a terrific atmosphere. There’s wild abandon, but also a lot of money raised for charity.
Filming for the Islands of Australia series was a big task. It involved journeys to and from 16 islands. It wasn’t until we stopped that it sunk in how enormous an undertaking it was. I don’t think we ever went from one to another. There was always a hub involved, and the loading of kit on and off planes and cars, but it was worth it.
In the Abrolhos, we were filming with a family of cray fishermen. That frontier way of life still exists. It made all the difference being embedded in a welcoming family and seeing how they live their lives rather than staying in a hotel. They’re not pretty islands, the Abrolhos, just rocks that protrude from the sea really, but interesting all the same. It felt like an outpost.
In the UK you seldom meet anyone from Western Australia. The vast state is quite a secret. I had a feel for it because I’m big a fan of the writer Tim Winton. His novel Cloudstreet gives an insight into the Western Australian condition. Everyone’s quest is Sydney harbour and Uluru but they should make their way out west.
The Muiron Islands are geared up for swimming with whale sharks. You often worry about these things – that animal welfare isn’t going to be top of the list – but it was beautifully done. When you go alongside them it’s just a privilege, mesmerising. I was snorkelling along on my side, completely hypnotised by this beautiful big fish and watching how the body worked, her musculature, and her beady eye on the side of her head scoping me. I was oblivious to the camera for about 30 or 40 minutes.
I’m not an entirely happy diver but I’ve done a fair bit. It’s quite nerve-racking when you get started but what you’re looking at takes care of that. You get back in the habit of breathing underwater. I kind of lost my nerve when making Islands of Britain (ITV, 2009). I had a nasty experience off the coast of a Scottish island, diving a wreck in freezing water. But I got back in the swing with a manta ray shoot that we filmed in the Maldives and the Cayman Islands. In Western Australia recently I visited the Shoalwater Islands, just south of Perth. I’ve seen dolphins (we get them off the coast of Cornwall) but here, swimming with them in the wild, moving with them, was a real thrill.
There’s an appeal, a draw to islands for me. Visiting them for work, and not as a tourist, gives me a sense of the community. There’s a really admirable, supportive sense of pride in island communities. Everyone has two or three jobs. People work really hard to earn the right to live on an island. There’s a clear boundary: a journey over water that binds people together.
When my father was alive we used to go to Mallorca. He had a little house and some land, and we’d go every school holiday. It was very rural but close by there was a pretty coastal village, and in the bay a tiny island and beyond it a bigger island. We would put sandwiches in plastic bags and swim out to the little island for picnics. That was my first exposure to islands.
I started to travel independently in my late teens. I’d go off to a Greek island on my own, having rocked up in Athens and got on the first ferry out. Greeks have a great tradition of welcoming visitors. The black-clad widows would meet the boats and make the sign of laying your head down. You’d follow them and for a few bob have a bed for the night.
When I go on holiday now I don’t care about where I am, as long as there’s a beach, a pool and a restaurant. I don’t want to go and watch how they make baskets in the village. Frequently it’s on islands – the Maldives, Sri Lanka. I tell a lie, in Sri Lanka I did get out. I’m perhaps not as much of a pleb as I’m making out.
• The first episode of Martin Clunes: Islands of Australia is on ITV, on 10 January at 8pm
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010