Douglas rediscovers the joys of Arnhem Land

MALCOLM Douglas is a tall, gangly, bearded man with a passion for traveling about Australia, particularly in Arnhem Land. In the 1960s he spend four years gadding about, the results of which were a book and one of Australia's most popular TV documentaries, Across the Top.

It took 17 years for him to go back to Arnhem Land and the results of - his trek ("mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension") can be seen in Return to the Top, on (7) Saturday, xt 6.30 pm. To say that Douglas touches on the Aboriginal way of life is an understatement. He gets right in there amongst them, joins them on hunting trips, the making of bark canoes, samples their foodstuffs and suffers the bites of those creepy- crawlies which also claim the area as their own.

After such an adventure is complete, Malcolm Douglas claims these Aboriginal folk as his friends. They enjoy his photographs from his previous visit and the stories of the outside world, although they have already seen some of white man's destruction in the name of progress.

Return to the Top is magnificently photographed; a blaze of colour from start to finish. What makes it all so interesting is that Douglas crams so much into the program's 60 minutes, and we learn so much from it, particularly about the Aboriginal way of life. He shows us how a water-bed of giant lillies serves as food not unlike sugar-cane and how the umbrella-shaped leaves can be used for sun-hats. We see the Aboriginal women making cycad loaves and cooking them in paper-bark ovens; the arduous task of bark canoe making; gathering honey from a wild bee hive; the search for tortoises which dig underground in the drying swamps to escape the dry season; an Aboriginal preparing a "dream" painting; and the cooking of a kangaroo in an antbed oven.

By this time we realise that Malcolm Douglas knows all about outback survival and that the area is dear to his heart. However, what makes one miserable is the thought that the peaceful land he is enjoying is so far out of reach.