bushie Malcolm Douglas, the bearded outback wanderer, is standing
in a pool of sweat in a telephone box some- where in the Flinders
Range in South Australia making contact with the outside world.
He is calling his daughter in Sydney to wish her well with her Year
12 exams, and the telephone box affords him some protection from
the flies which a few minutes earlier had threatened to rip his
The previous day he had spent hours crouched in the red
dirt, camera trained on feral goats attacking trees, an experience
which - although full of what is known in the business as good vision
- gave him no pleasure. The country, he says, is being stripped
bare by drought, goats and rabbits and no one seems to care, least
of all the Prime Minister.
The next day he plans to capture further
evidence of outback rape - rabbits stripping bark off stringy trees
on the edge of the Simpson - but in the meantime there's a daughter
to call and an evening meal to cook (curried rabbit most probably)
and eight hours good kip beneath a mozzie net.
Malcolm Douglas is
back on the track. He's been criss-crossing the nation for 30 years
- 20 with camera in hand - first for Seven and now for Nine. When
he got married he told his wife, Valerie, that he'd be away for
six months every year and he's been as good as his word... but
they still get on incredibly well with each other. Malcolm Douglas,
who showed his first outback movies in Perth Town Hall, is on a
conveyor belt of his own making. Every four months he delivers an
outback documentary to Nine, then spends a week or two at his crocodile
farm in Broome before hitting the trail again with camera, cook
pot and a 4 TV Extra comrade to help lug the equipment and provide
company round the camp fire.
He goes where he wants, films what
he likes, then edits it all at home in Sydney. He's a self-taught
film-maker whose style owes nothing to film schools, and his documentaries
strike a responsive chord among viewers who would secretly love
to sample the wide open spaces. The Douglas documentaries offer
a mass of information - from bogs through mud ovens, to the fragile
nature of Australia - but what is really on offer is a sense of
escapism. By industry standards he's cheap. Douglas says he could
do four hours of television for $350,000 compared with $4 million
for the ABC's Bush Tucker Man. "I make good wages out of films,"
Douglas says. "But then I work twice as hard as anyone else
and that's a matter of choice too. No one's twisting my arm."
That may be true, but the crocodile farm at Broome - in which he
has so far invested $800,000 and seven years work - is putting the
bite on much of his finance. And right now Douglas would like a
piece of the State Government. He's angry over the apparent refusal
of the State Government to allow him to take more than two male
crocodiles from the wild to help his breeding program, and he's
even considered moving his operation to the Northern Territory where
the government is anxious to have his crocodile farm and his expertise.
"If I was Smart I'd sell out and retire, but I like crocs,"
says Douglas, who once shot them for a living. "The public
will never come to love crocs, but they should be able to respect
them and work out how they fit into the whole ecological system."
Why crocs? "Because they've been around for 200 million years
and you can't tame them," says Douglas, who might prove a difficult
man to tame himself. "They're big, aggressive and incredibly
The State Government is one of his problems,
the outback with all its attendant plagues is another. "There
are 1000 trees a day dying out here because of rabbits stripping
the bark," says the outback adventurer making a sweaty plea
from a lonely phone box. It's a national disgrace. That's why I'm
filming it. Bob Hawke runs around telling us to plant trees, but
he should get out here instead and start getting rid of a few goats
and rabbits. Soon there won't be any trees left."
he will call his latest documentary Journey into the Simpson and
in time it may go the way of most of the others. Last month he sold
15 of his earlier films to Italy and another 30 to Germany. But
for the moment he's out there in the Simpson, filming, driving,
sweating and sleeping. And next year he'll be back again. At 50
he wonders how long he will go on. Someone suggested he might in
time do a documentary called Wheelchair Through the Kimberley. And
Malcolm Douglas laughed and said what a great idea.