With the first episode of Great Australian Walks with Julia Zemiro just a week away, the buzz is building and I, like many of you, can’t wait to see the beauty and depth of Australia’s most stunning hikes brought to life on the screen. To add to the anticipation, I’ve had the unique opportunity to dive a little deeper into the making of this series by asking some questions of two of the key minds behind the project – series producer Dan Goldberg and veteran travel journalist Bruce Elder, who helped choose the walks to be featured on the show.

For the uninitiated, Great Australian Walks is a new SBS series hosted by Julia Zemiro that will take us across Australia’s breathtaking landscapes, traversing picturesque trails throughout NSW, Victoria, ACT and Tasmania. From the sun-kissed beaches of Byron Bay to the dazzling views atop Tasmania’s Mount Wellington, the show offers a blend of stunning visuals, historical insights, and personal narratives that will undoubtedly leave viewers wanting to lace up their hiking boots and hit the trails.

Choosing the trails: A collaboration with Bruce Elder

Bruce Elder, an accomplished travel journalist and author, served as a critical source of local knowledge for the show’s creators. Having travelled extensively around Australia and hiked many of its trails, Elder brought a wealth of information to help shape the show. But his knowledge was most beneficial for Episode 4, which sees Julia hike the Kiama Coast Walk.

“I had a lot of input into the Kiama episode because I have lived here for 40 years and really do know a lot about the local area.”

Unsurprisingly, the Kiama Coast Walk is Bruce’s personal favourite of the featured walks. “I have done it many, many times and it combines some of the most beautiful coastal scenery with interesting history and geology,” he said.

Interestingly, Elder believes the pandemic has ignited an intense craving among Australians to get out and travel. “Just a sense of relief as a consequence of being denied the right to travel,” he says. It sounds like this phenomenon is in full effect on his home turf – “Kiama is now crazy every weekend… a crazy tourist town. And it wasn’t before the pandemic.”

When asked about selecting the ten epic walks featured on Great Australian Walks, the show’s producer Dan Goldberg revealed that the team liaised with Bruce Elder because he “knows just about every walk on this continent”. Goldberg also noted that, since the show went into production while Covid travel restrictions were still in force, the potential walks were restricted to locations within New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania.

Weathering the storm: The challenges of shooting outdoors

The Covid restrictions weren’t the only hurdle that Goldberg and his team faced, though. It seems the spirit of exploration and adventure occasionally comes with a few hiccups along the way. Who knew?

“Often, we were smashed by extreme weather and sometimes had to postpone the shoot,” he recalled. But other times, they just had to soldier on and “own the vagaries of the weather.”

“The walks are still epic… rain, hail or shine.”

That kind of challenge is to be expected if you really think about it, but what the team least expected happened after the first shoot in Kiama.

“Julia decided to get into the spirit and have a leisurely walk one day, and… broke her ankle,” Goldberg explained. “So, the shoot was delayed by several months while she healed.”

It sounds like this show was a labour of love. It was undoubtedly a test of endurance.

Julia Zemiro and Aunty Gwenda Jarrett sitting on a rock, talking (Kiama Coast)

Untold stories and diverse perspectives

Great Australian Walks isn’t just about showcasing Australia’s physical beauty. With guests including historians, local legends, First Australians, and new Australians, it presents an exciting tapestry of diverse and fresh perspectives. I asked Dan Goldberg about the importance of capturing these diverse perspectives in understanding Australia’s landscapes and history.

“Everywhere you walk, there is a story, often many stories. And especially as this is a series for SBS, we scoured each walk for people who could bring to life diverse stories, untold stories, sometimes stories we know but from a fresh perspective. And quirky stories – it’s a mix of factual and entertainment,” Goldberg explained, noting that this mix of styles is something Julia Zemiro does so seamlessly. I have to agree with him there.

Honouring Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage

Considering Bruce Elder’s previous work exploring the darker chapters of Australia’s history, I was keen to ask how Great Australian Walks will honour and respect this sensitive aspect of the nation’s past.

“I thought it was very important to tell the story of the Minnamurra River massacre,” Elder noted, again referring to the Kiama Coast Walk episode where Julia Zemiro meets Wodi Wodi elder Aunty Gwenda Jarrett to talk about her connection to country.

Without giving away too much, that gives you an idea of how well the show stays true to its focus on diversity. It sounds like we’re going to be reminded of the profound and sometimes tragic histories embedded in Australia’s landscapes.

I can also reveal that in Episode 5, which is centred on Lake Burley Griffin, we meet Gwenda Stanley from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – a site that commemorated its 50th year in 2022, as the world’s longest continuous protest for indigenous land rights. It’s these elements of acknowledgement and respect that will enrich our understanding of the lands we walk on as we watch. I can’t wait.

The SBS series, Great Australian Walks with Julia Zemiro, premieres on the 10th of August at 7.30 pm.

If you’re like me and don’t watch free-to-air TV, don’t worry – it’ll also be available to stream via SBS On Demand.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear all these stories and see the incredible landscapes of Australia’s eastern states come to life. Make sure you come back to The Bushwalking Blog to find all the information you need about the hikes, whether the show has reignited your passion for hiking or you’re already in full explorer mode but need info about the specific hikes covered in each episode.

Are you planning to watch Julia Zemiro explore Australia’s eastern states? Got any comments, corrections or suggestions? Let us know in the comments section below.

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