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How Alone Australia can help us understand and appreciate our place in nature


More than a million Australians have tuned in Australia onlySBSs series with the highest rating for 2023 to date. What is it about this program that has made us so addicted? And what can it tell us about our own relationship with nature?

The series began with ten contestants being dropped off in a remote area of ​​Lutruwita/Tasmania. The goal is to survive alone for as long as possible. Each participant relies on their ability to source food, create adequate shelter, and cope with human isolation.

Each participant’s experiences are shaped in part by their unique relationship with nature. We all appreciate and experience nature in different ways.

If armchair experts as we watch from home, we can think about how we would act if we had to survive alone in a remote place. How can our own relationship with nature influence our actions?

Read more: Australia-only participants grapple with isolation and setbacks. This is what makes a winner

Nature is everywhere

Watching Alone Australia can create a sense of nature, and nature experiences, happening ‘out there’, away from urban places and other people. This narrative has been fueled by the media, including David Attenborough’s awe-inspiring nature documentaries, which portray nature and man as separate. While this kind of media can lead to a fascination with nature, it can be harmful if it perpetuates an idea that humans are separate from nature.

Nature is all around us, including in our cities. Indeed, a third of Australia’s endangered species live in cities.

This means that what city dwellers (which is most of us) actually do is important to help nature survive and thrive. And there are many easy things we can do.

Read more: Nature is in crisis. Here are 10 simple ways you can make a difference

We shape nature and nature shapes us

Your relationship with nature is part of your identity. This relationship is formed by values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. It’s personal and it’s cultural.

Only Australia shows how people value nature in different ways. The show helps us to broaden our view appreciation for nature from what it offers us (instrumental/utilitarian values) to seeing beauty and value in nature itself (intrinsic values).

Some participants appreciate nature from an even broader perspective (relational values) as they reveal their deep, caring, mutual, and even spiritual relationship with the natural world.

Previous overseas seasons of Only have marked utilitarian nature relations, where most of the participants are white male survivors. This season, Australia’s first, features people from different cultures and genders, including First Nations peoples. This has brought out different kinds of human-nature relationships, including spiritual and nature-as-kinder relationships.

Experiences in nature at a young age shape these relationships. In their ‘flashback’ images, several participants express their gratitude to their parents for early experiences with nature.

For those of us with children, this can inspire us to shape our child’s “nature identity.” Meaningful nature experiences can include taking care of the outdoors (gardening, houseplants), bushwalks, visiting botanic gardens or seeing wildlife up close at your local zoo.

Nature as medicine

Being in nature is good for us. It may seem like the moments of awe and self-discovery in nature that we Alone Australia participants have experienced can only happen in these “out there” places. But these experiences can happen anywhere – if we seek them out.

This will be clear to many of us who sought solace in nature during COVID lockdowns. Connecting with nature, including in urban areas, can help people feel less lonely and support their well-being in many ways.

Especially for two Alone Australia participants, their experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder (Chris) and the loss of a child (Gina) are harrowing. Both describe how nature offers them comfort and healing.

For several participants, the desire to connect with people was the reason to go home. Others seek affinity with nature. For example, ecologist Kate befriends her local possum family and Gina enjoys regular visits from a platypus.

For First Nations man Duane, the experience strengthened his bond with Country, but experiencing that bond with family was critical:

It’s about unity with nature, but sharing it collectively – kindness, actions towards others, not being alone out there.

Read more: What only Australia tells us about fear and why we need it

Learning about nature

Nature TV content like Alone Australia is educational. As the remaining participants find food and other resources, we learn about plant and animal species and their use by the Palawa people, the traditional custodians of the land.

This can encourage viewers to learn more about the plants and animals in their own local environment. Indeed, the recent renewed interest in urban foraging has been touted as strengthening our connections to place and sense of belonging.

We need nature and nature needs us

Only Australia emphasizes our complete interdependence on nature. Ultimately, everything we need to survive, including clean water, shelter and food, comes from nature, even if we live in a city. The participants’ “successes” are determined by their ability to understand their relationship to the land and how to meet their basic needs for survival.

If we broaden our view of nature and see ourselves as woven into nature’s rich tapestry, as many of the participants do, we can gain more than just survive. We can improve our well-being while feeling related to the more-than-human, and a sense of responsibility to care for it.

Nature is in crisis and it concerns us all.

People who feel connected to nature are more likely to protect it. If TV wildlife content such as Alone Australia encourages us to reflect on our relationship with nature and seek out meaningful moments with nature and wildlife knowledge, then perhaps it could lead us to strengthen our environmental identity and act as nature managers. And that is a great outcome for people and planet.

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