A broken ankle and wild weather were just a couple of hurdles Julia Zemiro had to overcome when filming Great Autralian Walks. In this new SBS show, Julia takes viewers on 10 amazing walks around the country, diving into the history and culture of each place.
Opening image: Julia Zemiro on the Great Yarra Tail, Vic. Image: Sarah Enticknap, supplied courtesy of Mint Pictures
You’ve gotten out from behind the wheel of Home Delivery and into your hiking boots. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind Great Australian Walks?
This is the first new show I’ve done post-Covid. It was the freedom of being outside that really appealed to me. During Covid, people also discovered how much they liked walking, and then when our borders opened and we could finally go out, we thought, maybe I don’t need to go overseas – maybe I can just see what’s in my own backyard. We did six walks in New South Wales, three in Victoria, one in the ACT and one in lutruwita (Tasmania). The walks on this show are all doable in a day and can be done by beginners.
I’ve never been a walker for fitness per se. I didn’t start driving till I was 35 years old. But walking is free. You need no equipment. You can wear what you want. And I love that you’re experiencing things in real time. When I’m sad, confused or need to be creative, I go for a walk. It doesn’t have to be miles and miles. It’s literally just about getting up and moving.
The series is described as an entertaining waltz through history, geography, science, travel and culture. What are some of the most interesting things you learnt along the way?
In general, each walk has an Indigenous beat, a colonial beat, a migration beat and an environmental beat. We had a bug expert in the Blue Mountains, volcanic experts at Kiama through to historians on Mornington Peninsula where we talk about Harold Holt. We spoke to an amazing guy called Tim who had a form of encephalitis and lost the use of his legs. He was an active walker and fisherman in Tasmania, and he talks about the inaccessibility of tracks. So, it’s not just about walking: it’s about the accessibility of being in nature. At the centre of it all really is taking your time. There’s a certain slowness to the show, with long, drone shots mimicking the time it takes to do a walk. When you do things on foot, you see more detail.
Australia has a long history of walking and storytelling in Indigenous culture. How did you engage with this history during the series?
In nipaluna (Hobart), we met an amazing girl called Nunami who runs a group called Blak Led Tours. She takes you on a walking tour around Hobart and opens up the Indigenous urban history that has always been there. Everywhere you go in this country, you find powerful Indigenous history that we just don’t talk about. I also loved learning all the Indigenous place names, like kunanyi for Mount Wellington. It’s exciting that we’re starting to normalise that again.
What were some of your favourite walks from the series?
What was interesting for me was the Bondi to Coogee walk. I grew up in Bondi, and I thought I knew everything about it, but I discovered plenty of new things. I’ve also got the luxury of being able to find interesting people to come with me along the way. We didn’t want it to just be well known faces but to include locals as well, so it has been a beautiful, happy medium of doing a bit of both. On the Lake Burley Griffin walk, we spoke to senator David Pocock, this incredible man and amazing sportsperson, who is so environmentally conscious and passionate about helping his state. He’s the real deal and, on a walk, you get to see this whole other side of someone. In that episode, we also met the Japanese ambassador who took us took us to the fog sculpture along the walkway at the National Art Gallery. So, there’s something in it for everyone.
What were some of your most memorable moments shooting outdoors and what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
When we decided to start filming in Kiama in January 2022, La Niña kept us from filming for two months. When the walk was finally dry enough and we could film, I broke my ankle the following week. So, then we had to postpone for three months, which was really frustrating. The other part of our limitations around the walks were what was still open, what was slightly more Covid-friendly and what was accessible to us, weather-wise. Filming a documentary outside may not be that easy anymore!
The strangest part was also having to film a walk. So, I never did the full walk from A to Z: I did bits of the walk three times in three different ways. We had a drone and two other cameras, and an incredible crew. It was nice in a way, because I would do an intense interview and then do the walk again by myself with just the drone. It gave me time to reflect on what I’d just learnt.
Where is your favourite place to travel in Australia?
I suppose my favourite place is somewhere I haven’t been enough yet. I’d love to do more of Western Australia and explore the wildness of that side of the country, as well as learn more about the Indigenous culture and stories there.